CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOL DAYS
Last Revision 06 July 2020 by the author: Lawrence Eugene Vaughn Jr.
Larry Vaughn, Elkhart IN 1947
Revivals and Bible Thumping
Dad’s Paint Shop
Hannibal Central Park
Admiral Coontz Armory
National Guard Units
Railroad Tracks on Collier
Walking to School
The Side Yard
Childhood Illnesses and Injuries
Eugene Field School
Cub & Boy Scouts
Hannibal Yankees & St. Louis Cardinals
Camery Field Playground
First Fist Fight
Church, Scouts & PTA
1714 Grace Street
S.S. Kresge Company – The Layaway Story
Here’s My Side of the Story
I was born in 1944. World War II was raging. Here’s what was happening the month I was born.
February 1944 in the News
- Feb 1 Supreme Soviet increases Soviet republics’ autonomy
- Feb 1 US 7th Infantry/4th Marine Division lands on Kwajalein/Roi/Namur
- Feb 2 4th US marine division conquers Roi, Marshall Islands
- Feb 2 Allied troops 1st set foot on Japanese territory
- Feb 2 Baseball meets in NYC to discuss postwar action
- Feb 2 Edward Chodorov’s “Decision” premieres in NYC
- Feb 3 World War II: United States troops capture the Marshall Islands.
- Feb 4 Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone” premieres in Paris
- Feb 4 US 7th Infantry Division captures Kwajalein
- Feb 5 358 RAF bombers attack Stettin
- Feb 7 Bing Crosby records “Swinging on a Star” for Decca Records
- Feb 7 Germans launch counter offensive at Anzio, Italy
- Feb 8 1st black reporter accredited to White House, Harry McAlpin
- Feb 8 U-762 sunk off Ireland
- Feb 9 U-734/U-238 sunk off Ireland
- Feb 10 Belgian resistance fighter and author Kamiel van Baelen arrested
- Feb 10 U-666/U-545/U-283 sink off Ireland
- Feb 11 German troops reconquer Aprilia, Italy
- Feb 11 U-424 sunk off Ireland
- Feb 12 Wendell Wilkie (R) enters presidential race
- Feb 14 Anti-Japanese revolt on Java
- Feb 14 British Submarine sinks Nazi Germany U-Boat off Penang, Malaysia
- Feb 15 891 British bombers attack Berlin
- Feb 15 Attack begins at Monte Cassino monastery, Italy
- Feb 17 Battle of Eniwetok Atoll begins; US victory on Feb 22
- Feb 17 US begins night bombing of Truk
- Feb 18 Maastricht resistance fighter JAJ Janssen arrested
- Feb 18 Youngest baseball player, Cincinnati Reds sign 15 year old Joe Nuxhall
- Feb 19 823 British bombers attack Berlin
- Feb 19 U-264 sunk off Ireland
- Feb 20 Batman & Robin comic strip premieres in newspapers
- Feb 20 US takes Eniwetok Island
- Feb 20 World War II: The “Big Week” began with American bomber raids on German aircraft manufacturing
- Feb 21 “War As It Happens” news show premieres on NBC TV (NYC only)
- Feb 22 US 8th Air Force bombs Enschede, Arnhem & Nijmegen by mistake/800+ die
- Feb 23 Forced deportation of the Chechen and Ingush people to Central Asia.
- Feb 24 Minister of war Juan Perón leads a coup in Argentina
- Feb 25 US 1st Army completes invasion plan
- Feb 26 1st female US navy captain, Sue Dauser of nurse corps, appointed
- Feb 28 Arrests of the ten-Boom family in Nazi occupied Netherlands on charges of hiding Jews
- Feb 29 5 leaders of Indonesia Communist Party sentenced to death
- Feb 29 US troop land on Los Negros, Admiralty Islands
Even with all that going on, Mother was able to get my photo taken each month of my first year.
I grew up on the south edge of Hannibal, Missouri, in the Elzea Addition, in the last half of the 1940s and the 1950s during a time when most people I knew treated others with respect. “Sir” and “Ma’am” were terms we used when talking to adults. Men opened and held doors for ladies. “Please” and “Thank you” were spoken common courtesies. We asked to be excused from the kitchen table after the family meal was concluded, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We dutifully carried books and groceries for ladies, and gave up our seat for one without being asked to. We removed our hats and caps when we entered a building, out of courtesy. Hats were originally designed to keep the head warm, protect it from the sun, and keep the dust out of the eyes. The hat was removed when going indoors to prevent the dust on the hat from getting on the furniture and floor of the house.
We learned courtesy, respect, and discipline from our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, even neighbors, mindfully honoring their position as elders. What they said might as well have been the gospel, because there was no room for disrespect. Men with missing limbs were common in those days, and it seemed that everyone’s father and uncles had fought in the recent world wide war. And, we eagerly lent a hand when someone needed assistance, whether requested or not.
At home, in school, and at church, we were taught discipline, common courtesy, social graces, and table etiquette. In addition to scholastic pursuits and sports, schools taught basic life skills such as manual arts; woodworking, metal working, leather working and plastics for boys, poise, posture, sewing, cooking and other domestic arts for the girls. We also learned to operate a typewriter, write letters and balance a checkbook. Prayers, the Pledge of Allegiance, and paddling were allowed in public schools. Revealing clothing and vulgarity were not.
Bottled water didn’t exist. There were no microwaves, or cable networks. No cell phones! In fact, no digital devices at all. The electric typewriter was just coming onto the scene to replace the venerated manual versions. There was no such thing as fast food in our town, although we knew of a McDonald’s in Springfield. Illinois that we stopped at during road trips to Elkhart, Indiana.
At home, we drank Kool-aid, iced tea, milk or water. Adults in our family drank hot coffee, some with cream, some with sugar. We ate lunch meat (mostly bologna, salami or pickle loaf), grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs on slices of white bread. Egg salad sandwiches and pimento cheese sandwiches were common treats, especially for picnics. Salmon patties and Mackerel cakes were served with baked beans for hot lunches. Most of our fruits, condiments and vegetables came from our own garden, whether fresh or canned.
All of the mothers in our family, with help from their daughters, preserved their garden harvest by canning, or “putting-up” foods through a process that used that ominously scary, hissing, stove top pressure cooker with its dancing steam regulator on top. There was always the back-of-the-mind anxiety as everyone waited to hear the lid-popping assurances that the cooling canned goods had sealed properly, heralding success for that particular batch. Any that didn’t seal usually went into the refrigerator for upcoming meals.
Canning was an all day process. The boys lugged tubs or baskets of raw supplies into the steaming hot kitchen and the finished products out of the oppressive steam into the basement or root cellar. It made one wonder how the pasted-on wallpaper clung to the walls in that day long steam bath, the windows flung open to invite any gust of breeze to give a breath of fresh air. Dark, musty, root cellars were common under each home or in the back yard for storing the heavy clear glass jars. And, trading canned goods for something you didn’t grow yourself was a social event every fall when canning was done and the gleaming clear jars were sorted.
Our homes were usually left unlocked, and windows were always open. There was no air conditioning. Some better off homes had electric refrigerators, while many, like my great-grandparents, still had the ice box, reliant on the horse-drawn Ice Wagon, with its sawdust and canvas covered blocks of ice delivered to the home. The icebox dates back to the days of river ice harvesting into the 1940s, when electricity began to reach homes, and the electric refrigerator became practical.
We, barefoot, outdoor raised children, would follow along behind the ice wagon as it trundled through the neighborhood on those sweltering summer days, in hopes that the denim overall clothed ice man would throw out a chunk chipped off the corner of an ice block. When he did, the chunk would hit the pavement, shatter into dozens of pieces that scattered out in all directions. We quickly scanned for the biggest nearby piece, ran to grab it up off the grimy street before anyone else did.
Once the ice was in hand, we wiped the road dirt and sand off it, and immediately sucked on it for the joy of ice cold, deliciously cooling, drops of refreshing water. We usually sat in the shade of a tree, or on the porch swing, sucking in cold droplets, while letting the cool melting water trickle from our now clean hands, streaming down the outside of our arms, falling from elbows onto legs, and making a puddle below us. What joy!
Back then most homes had mothers and fathers, a man and a woman, who were married. Men at nearly every table, husbands next to every wife. Almost every crying child had a father to pick them up. Mom was called a homemaker, and she was usually at home all the time, making our home comfortable and beckoning. Most dads worked outside the home at some retail or factory business location to earn the household income. Some single ladies took in laundry to earn an income, while others rented out their spare room.
Divorce was frowned upon in those days, so, many abandoned mothers claimed to be widows to avoid social embarrassment. Widows were frequent due to losses in the recent war, so being a widow was more socially acceptable than being divorced. Mondays were “wash days,” when homemakers proudly displayed their freshly cleaned laundry pinned to clothes lines that spanned the back or side yard. The bed sheets and clothing fluttered in the breeze until they were fresh air fragrant and completely dry. It was a source of pride to have bright whites and colorful prints.
Children occasionally would gather up discarded glass bottles that had a refundable deposit. We would take them to the neighborhood grocery store and used the deposit money to buy bulk penny candy scooped into a small brown paper sack. When we could find enough bottles, we’d buy a cold 5-cent six-ounce, glass bottle of Coca Cola, and drop a hand full of redskin peanuts in it for a special fizzy treat. Another favorite treat was sugar coated Spice Drops mixed with the redskin peanuts.
We were careful about what we uttered around our elders because we knew if we disrespected any grown up, we would get our behinds paddled at home. It wasn’t called abuse back then, it was called discipline, and it was accepted as the norm when we misbehaved! Even school principles spanked misbehaving students, and then called the parents, where they might get spanked again! We also knew that if we were overheard using a curse word, we could get our mouth washed out with soap. Literally!
When someone had a fist fight, that’s what it was . . . a fight. And, they were back to being friends shortly thereafter. If we misbehaved when we were playing with neighbors, the nearest adult might admonish us, and say, “Do you want me to call your mother!? (Shudder!) In those days we had party line telephone service. There would be one line for a neighborhood, with each household having a special ring, such as two short rings for a particular household, and then everyone on the party line could pick up their phone and listen in.
For entertainment, we watched Captain Kangaroo on our black-and-white TV Saturday morning, and the Roy Rogers Show weekdays after school. Cartoons were only on TV on Saturday morning. Sunday School and church were our regular Sunday activity. There were no curse words heard on radio or TV in those days. We didn’t see nudity, or, heaven forbid, same sex intimacy. Neither was there disrespect or vulgarity in the music of the day. It was a much more civil and respectful time.
Most of us went to public schools, and looked forward to learning new things. We also enjoyed playing on the playground with the other children. Dodge ball, kick ball, marbles, and Simon Says were popular. We would ride our bikes for hours on Saturdays, cruising back and forth through our neighborhood and stopping to play with neighbors. And, in those days, it was a treat to get to go to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up something for mom, because the storekeeper often gave us a sample of penny candy for running the errand! My favorite hobby was playing marbles, and later, trading baseball cards that came in bubble gum packs. I often purchased the cards with bottle deposit refund money.
Any time the weather was decent, after homework was done, it was common for our mothers to say, “Go outside and play!” We knew the rules: we could play anywhere we could hear Mother yell or Dad whistle, when it was time to come in. After dinner, we went back out to play until the street lights came on. Then it was time to go home wherever you were and whatever you were doing. We played Hide and Seek, Simon Says, Mother May I, or Dodge ball. The boys played Cowboys and Indians, or War, and the girls played Hopscotch, Jacks, or Jump Rope.
We played impromptu baseball with the neighborhood kids practically every summer weekend the weather was good enough. If we had to go to another neighborhood to get enough players, we told mom, and mom told us when to be home. And, at meal time, we sat around the dinner table and actually talked to each other about what had gone on that day!
We had our church families,too, and fellowship dinners. At school we had Parent Teacher Association events like chili suppers and bake sales that funded crafts and supplies for the school. We had general respect for each other, and forgiveness for differences, because that is what the bible teaches, and the bible was a very big part of our post-war society.
We had God at church, at school, and in our home. There was dignity, mutual respect. and Christian values. And, there was, of course, fear of that paddling! Needless to say, there were no mass shootings, and few, if any, child suicides back when we honored God in our society.
A lot of the childhood memories I-think-I-have, may come from photos and numerous discussions about the family over the years, but I feel that they are real memories and I claim them as my own. I can definitely recall that our childhood homes in Hannibal always seemed to be within earshot of railroad tracks, and that I always felt a little excited when I heard the whistle of a steam locomotive, and later, the horn of a diesel engine. I loved the magical mystery of trains.
In photographs my mother had stored away for many years, I found after her passing, several snapshots of trips to Perry, Missouri when I was 2 years old, and again when I was three. My grandfather, William Thomas Vaughn, pastored the First Baptist Church in Perry at that time. On visits to his pastorates I remember my grandmother, Jessie Beulah Phillips Vaughn, on numerous occasions, made sassafras tea for us from some roots she had dug up and dried. I still recall the fragrance of the roots as she gently simmered them to make the sweet, aromatic, tea with just a hint of milk!
We sometimes made the trip to Perry with my first cousin, Sharon, daughter of Helen Ruth Vaughn Sampson, and her husband, William “Uncle Bill” Sampson. The trip wasn’t that long; a distance of about thirty miles, but we would go on Saturday morning, bed down overnight, attend church the next morning followed by a nice lunch and playtime before heading back to Hannibal. Of course, I remember very little, if any, of this, but relate what my mother had told me about those trips, and what I can surmise from the photos.
I don’t remember much about the parsonage properties themselves, except that they usually had big yards and lots of mature trees all around, with the church next door to the parsonage. We were not allowed to play on the church lot, and we never questioned that, because we knew it was the house of the Lord, our God.
May 3, 1947 visit to Perry, Missouri. Upper left, Sharon Lee Sampson and Larry Vaughn say prayers, then retire. Bottom left, Eugene Vaughn, Larry & Sharon as W.T. Vaughn leaves to tend to a matter with a great sense of urgency. Bottom right is view of grandfather’s church and parsonage beyond.
Larry & Sharon Sampson, daughter of Helen Ruth Vaughn Sampson, with Rev. W.T. Vaughn. Jean Ann Vaughn joins at bottom right at the piano. Perry, Missouri parsonage 1947
Perry was still a coal town when I was a little boy. The coal mining had peaked in the 1930s, but dwindling mine operations continued into the early 1950’s. The coal had been hauled by the Perry branch of the St. Louis and Hannibal “Short Line” Railroad. The railroad had operated freight trains to haul coal until highway 19 was built, and then the hauling was done by trucks. The Short Line continued to run passenger service using railbusses, but those also disappeared by early 1946.
Some of my earliest actual memories are of visits to my grandparents’ parsonage home in Bevier, Missouri, where grandfather pastored the Baptist Church in the late 1940s. Usually when Dad was gone to National Guard summer camp, mother would pack everything we needed, and we would board a train to Bevier for a few days with my grandparents. Of course, we didn’t see a lot of Grandfather during the stay, as he was always busy on church business.
Strangely, all I remember of the various parsonages, is one kitchen, because of something that occurred during our visit that stuck with me! I remember the square kitchen table set against the wall with two tall side-by-side windows. White lace curtains were tied back to provide a view out onto the lawn. Directly across from the table was a deep white porcelain double sink, kitchen range, and refrigerator along the inside wall. At one end of the room was the front door, and at the other was an open doorway into the living room.
My grandfather came into the kitchen from outdoors one day while Sharon and I were sitting at the kitchen table having an afternoon snack of sassafras tea and cookies. He turned on the tap in the farmer’s sink to run some cold water, and spit blood onto the drain. He then turned off the water and returned back outdoors. I didn’t know why he spat out blood, and I didn’t ask. I didn’t think I wanted to know, but it sure imprinted that memory!
When “Grandfather,” William Thomas Vaughn, was born on the farm October 22, 1894, in rural Tunnel Hill, Illinois, his father, Reverend Lemuel Lafayette Vaughn, was 26 and his mother, Rebecca Ann Snider Vaughn, was 27. He married Jessie Beulah Phillips on October 2, 1917, in Carterville, Illinois and shipped out two days later, October 4, 1917, for service with the U.S. Army. His first child, Helen Ruth Vaughn, was born 06 December, 1918, while he was serving as a machine gunner in France. He was discharged six months after her birth in June 1919.
Grandfather was “Bill” to his family and friends. He was a stern, no nonsense, disciplinarian with a deep voice. I don’t remember affectionate moments with him, but, then, he died when I was only nine years old, and for most of those years he lived out of town. He stayed busy with church business, and we would only see him if he came to Hannibal as a guest preacher, or we went to their pastorage for an occasional visit.
My mother used to laugh when telling that when I was a toddler, Grandfather brought home a huge live thanksgiving turkey, and put me on its back so I could “ride” it in the kitchen of our apartment on Pleasant street. She said everyone except me got a good laugh at him trying to keep me from falling as that frightened turkey scrambled to escape its predicament trying to get its footing on the slippery linoleum floor!
My family traveled on a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad passenger train from Hannibal, Missouri, where we lived, to Bevier, about seventy miles away. After leaving Union Station and traveling across town on Collier Street, the tracks ran on the roadbed of the historic predecessor Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad toward the west. Bevier, at the time was still a very busy coal town, with active coal mines all around the area, and a short line, the Bevier & Southern Railroad, that ran passenger and freight service to the mines.
Over the years as new mines were opened, the Bevier & Southern extended their branch lines to provide hauling service. I loved hearing the big steam engines chuff-chuffing the heavy coal trains uphill from the mines and through town to the Burlington railroad siding where they were dropped off for later pick up by CB&Q.
Historic Bevier & Southern locomotive #112 on permanent display in downtown Bevier, May 1983. Posterized photo by the author.
Several times we would hear a steam engine working its way up the hill as we played in the yard, and I would run to the sidewalk out front of the pastorate, to gaze past the church a few blocks toward the railroad tracks just to catch a glimpse of the steam engine chuffing through the intersection. I always enjoyed the noise and drama of the “working” end of the train, and admired the men in the cab of the locomotive who made the train “go.”
In later years Grandfather had churches in other towns including Meadville, Kahoka, Braymer, Hannibal, and St. Joseph MO, all of which were along the former Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, then operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, known as the Burlington Route. I only knew grandfather for the first nine years of my life, but he left a resounding impression on me. I just couldn’t imagine a better example of a minister in the pulpit.
I no longer visualize him delivering a church sermon. The lingering impression for me is of a summertime tent revival in Hannibal where my family assisted with passing out handheld fans with wood handles and colorful bible scenes printed on one side and funeral home advertising on the other. We stood at the tent entrance handing out printed programs and fans in the sweltering early evening heat. Grandfather’s shirt and tie would be soaked with sweat by the end of the service, his suit jacket having been cast aside much earlier and his white crisply starched and ironed shirt sleeves carelessly rolled up to the elbow, his collar unbuttoned and necktie loosened.
Revivals and Bible Thumping
The summertime revivals were at the old fairgrounds in the Bear Creek Bottoms in Hannibal, between what is now Warren Barrett and Colfax Streets. The city has constructed a water treatment facility on part of that property now. The distant east end near Third Street in early days held a professional baseball field where the Admiral Coontz armory now stands. Many early circuses had been held on the fairgrounds, with their long, colorful, trains parked on the sidings provided just for that purpose.
I believe the huge circus-style tent used for the revivals may have been erected by a rental company, because I don’t remember being there during setup. Then, again, it may have been too dangerous to have small children around during what must have been a well coordinated event. The revival tent was heavy beige canvas held up at the highest peaks by a row of very tall poles in the center with shorter ones around the sides to create outside walls. Very thick ropes tied the sides to stakes all around the outside, and the bottom flap was rolled up to let the hot summer air circulate.
Two rows of rented wooden folding chairs were arranged with an aisle through the center to the stage. A piano was placed to the right of the plain wooden platform at the front, and the choir sat in rows of chairs to the left, facing the podium. I would guess there were 25 folding chairs side by side on either side of the wide center aisle, and I couldn’t venture a guess at how many rows there were, and still, it was usually standing room only when the service began! When you glanced at the congregation, those colorful fans seemed to flutter in unison throughout the tent.
My grandfather seemed just perfect in the pulpit to me . . . loud, clear, emphatic, energetic, filled with God’s inspiration . . . straight and true. His voice trembled with conviction and echoed in the evening stillness as his bible met the podium with an emphatic “thump!” The flashes of light bouncing off the gold gilt edge as he waved the bible seemed to accentuate the point he was making. I just couldn’t imagine anyone being a better preacher!
His voice reverberated across the fairgrounds, and I was sure that folks must be able to hear him quite well for several blocks as they sat on their front porches enjoying the cool breeze of evening. His big black bible that he preached from lay open on the podium, its gilt edges gleaming as he turned pages. Occasionally he picked the bible up, waved it in the air, and plopped it down on the podium with a resounding thump for emphasis! I was very proud of him, and thought, as a young boy, that I would also become a preacher.
Grandfather died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack when I was nine years old, on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, 1953. I remember that Easter being less than a happy event, although I didn’t really grasp the full meaning at the time. He was pastoring in St. Joseph, Missouri at the time of his passing. I don’t remember going to the funeral, and doubt that we children were able to attend. My brother, the youngest, would have been only three years old. Grandfather is buried in Grand View Cemetery in Hannibal, with a commemorative plaque noting his war time military service.
For many years I had only one keepsake of my grandfather’s; a handsome metal-cased pocket knife inscribed with his name, “W.T. Vaughn.” Grandmother gave me the keepsake a few years later. She told me it had been a sales award, from the years before his full time ministry, when he was a hardware salesman for L.B. Price in St. Joseph (1939). Though I kept the knife in a memento box and stored it away, it has been lost to history, and its whereabouts unknown.
Dad’s Paint Shop
My dad was a sign painter in the days when that meant half pint cans of enamel paint, turpentine, mineral oil, packages of pigments, stencils, powdered chalk, masking tape, brushes upon brushes of all shapes and sizes . . . and, none to be touched by children!
I remember his paint shop on the alley behind the house at 1505 Vermont in Hannibal quite well. It was located in the large two story wooden building at the back corner of the property, on the alley between Lindell Avenue and Vermont Street. It once had been a stable for a horse and carriage that opened onto Clark Avenue, and still had the hay loft upstairs now filled with old furniture and chests of drawers. It was fun to play “spy” and watch goings on in the neighborhood through the knotholes in the wide, thick, boards that formed the walls of the loft. Or, pretending to be a sniper picking off enemy soldiers foolish enough to come within range.
There was a fenced chicken coop on the lawn side of the stable that faced the two story house. The house was situated on the corner of a double lot at Clark Avenue and Vermont Street. The “Vaughn Sign Painting” sign that was suspended from the front of the paint shop, below the hayloft door, hung over the sidewalk on Clark, and swung lazily back and forth, squeaking with the breeze. Dad often sat on a 5-gallon paint can as he lettered car, cab and truck doors of vehicles parked parallel to the sidewalk on Clark street, while we played in the yard behind him.
I sometimes “explored” the paint shop when dad was away, but usually just passed through it on the way upstairs to play. Paint cans of all sizes were sorted on shelves at the back of the shop. There was a large sloped work bench along one wall, with lots of shallow “inkwell” holes to hold half pint cans of paint at the top edge along the wall. It seemed like he always had one or two projects laid out on the workbench, with carefully spaced lettering stencils held together with masking tape.
At the bottom edge of the work bench work surface was a raised edge with groove where pens, pencils, rulers and other tools rested. A tee square hung on the wall at arm’s length along with several sizes of protractors, compasses, and a slide rule. Above the bench, on the wall, were rows of slanted shelves that held postcard size glassine envelopes containing paint pigments, including one each of gold leaf and silver gilt pigments.
I thought the gilt pigments were fascinating! I once carefully lifted one of the semi-transparent glassine envelopes from its pocket and lifted the flap to peer inside. I just barely stuck my fingertip in to widen the top opening to get a little closer look at the silver gilt pigment, when the envelope completely unfolded and dumped the fine powder on the workbench!
I tried to pick it up, and soon discovered that I was just making it worse, smearing the silky slippery powder into the work bench! I tried to scoop it up with the envelope flap, but just got the powder on more fingers trying to push it into the glassine envelope. The sparkling powder on my fingers was getting spread all over everything I touched, and I was forced to minimize the disaster by just stopping and leaving it as it was for dad to clean up. I knew I was in trouble, and it was one of those ominous afternoons waiting for dad to get home from work. Mom was more sympathetic than dad was, and there soon appeared a shiny new padlock and hasp on the shop door, ending my days of playing in the hayloft!
Art in the Sign Shop
In the center of the side wall, above the workbench, was a calendar with one of the most dazzling photographs I had ever noticed. It was brightly colored, and the image so brilliant that it seemed to leap off the page! It was similar to the one shown here, although I no longer remember the particular image.
I was about ten years old, I believe, and I remember thinking that it was a beautiful piece of artwork with a calendar below it. What struck me was how bright the colors looked on the flat black background. Most of our photographs of that day were still black and white, so the colors seemed really vibrant. I didn’t know until many years later that there was a clear plastic sheet draped over the calendar photo that contained perfectly aligned undergarments.
Hannibal Central Park
When I was a child there was a cast iron hand operated water pump and tin drinking cup located on the Broadway side of this park. With just a couple of pumps of the long, heavy, handle, the pump delivered a cup of fresh, cool, drinking water to refresh on those hot, humid, days of summer. The pump itself was always cool to the touch because its pipes extended deep into the ground where ground temperature was always much cooler than ambient summer air.
A long handled tin dipper hung from its metal loop for everyone to use for catching the water as it was pumped up. Everyone drank from this same tin cup without a second thought, and hung it back up for the next person to use. Don’t forget to pour the last ½ cup of water back in the hole at the top of the pump to prime it for the next thirsty person!
Popcorn and Spanish Peanuts
Central Park was a shade tree lined public park in the middle of downtown, between 4th and 5th street and bordered by Broadway and Center Streets. It had a lovely water fountain feature in the middle, and a large concrete bandshell, where I saw my great-grandfather, Tony White, perform with the church band on occasion.
Central Park was also popular because of two vendors that were located on the Broadway and Fifth Street corners, diagonally across from the Mary Ann Sweet Shop, and directly across from the Tom Sawyer movie theater, formerly the Orpheum, on the south side of Broadway at Fifth street.
One vendor, located on Broadway, was a bright red food trailer that served hot buttered popcorn in red and white striped paper bags, and all the popular ice cream bars. It was run by a blind couple, Don and Betty, and it always amazed me how they knew what money you gave them. They were very friendly, and sometimes gave small samples to the children.
The other trailer was blue and yellow, and sold 5¢ paper bags of freshly cooked spanish peanuts. I wonder if the two timed their cooking so the park always smelled either of freshly popped popcorn, or freshly boiled peanuts!
Admiral Coontz Armory
It seemed to me that Dad was always a soldier. I have a hard time recalling him when he didn’t have a uniform or two hanging in the closet. And, of course, those childhood memories of him are centered around the armory, fatigue and dress uniforms, spit shined black combat boots with white spats, and white helmet liners. And, for a short time, a Hannibal Police Department uniform and gun belt when he was exploring whether his military Criminal Investigation training would translate to civilian policing.
The Admiral Coontz Armory, in Hannibal was a big part of my early years. My dad was in the Missouri State Guard when it became the Missouri National Guard. He usually wore olive drab fatigues bloused at the shiny black combat boots, but also had a khaki dress uniform for more formal occasions. I remember that he called them “pinks” because of the particular beige hue they had. But, he was a striking figure in all of his uniforms with every little nuance of proper dress in perfect compliance.
One memory I recall is him hand mopping and then waxing that huge Admiral Coontz Armory drill floor with a hand operated polishing machine. It was big, heavy, and had a large electric motor on top of the deck that spun a big shaggy mop disk. But, the shine it produced was mirror-like, and when the sun streamed in the windows the whole drill floor glistened with light.
It took several hours for him to complete the task, and I got to play on one end of the floor while he worked on the other. It was fun to run, extend my arms like wings, belly flop down on the freshly waxed floor, and slide across it, pretending to fly. I fondly remember how I seemed to be in a magical world where flying was possible, even though it may have been only six feet of slide on that 15,000 sq. ft. glistening painted concrete floor. The ceiling height was 20 feet, and I remember it having two full size basketball courts on the main floor.
The armory was built in 1938 as a WPA project, and is a large, rectangular cut-limestone edifice built expressly as an armory for the local Guard unit. It is located next to Clemens Field, which was, at times, a professional level baseball field, parade ground, and also housed a matching limestone motor pool building for the National Guard unit’s motor vehicles.
National Guard Units
The National Guard unit housed in the Admiral Coontz armory was inactivated 20 July 1944 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, then converted, reorganized, and Federally recognized 15 November 1947 as the 35th Military Police Company, an element of the 35th Infantry Division. The military police years are the period of most of my memories.
The unit was consolidated 15 April 1959 with the 35th Replacement Company (organized and Federally recognized 12 October 1955 at Hannibal) and the consolidated unit was reorganized and redesignated as Company D, 175th Military Police Battalion, and concurrently, relieved from assignment to the 35th Infantry Division.
Dad, who for several years was the only full time employee at the Hannibal armory, would often take me with him when he had to be present for meetings with groups who were renting the armory for an event. I got to play on that huge drill floor, and try to get that ornery basketball through the hoop.
Sometimes when the National Guard unit was preparing for a bivouac, or summer camp, the drill floor would be filled with a couple dozen olive-drab trucks and a few jeeps that were being final-prepped for deployment. I had a lot of fun climbing up in the big trucks, the 2½-ton 6×6 cargo truck, getting behind the wheel, and imagine driving it. I remember wondering what all the buttons and levers on the dash were for.
But, the real monster was the five-ton command center with a hard shell wood cabin built behind the cab that served as office space. It had two small windows with hinged flaps on either side, and a door with small window on the back. I never got to go inside the cabin to see the equipment, but could see part of it when Dad was working on the truck and had the door open.
Seemingly filled with radios and equipped with two long whip antennas that were mounted on either side of the rear bumper, with ropes hanging from way up on the tips used to pull each antenna down over the cab to be fastened to the front bumper when in transit! This one really stood out from the others! And, it stood so tall I could barely get up on the cab step.
more about the Hannibal Guard unit: https://larryevaughn.com/2018/12/07/hannibal-national-guard/
Railroad Tracks on Collier
I also recall the frequent CB&Q freight trains that ran back and forth in the middle of Collier Street, right in front of the armory. I don’t seem to have any memory of the Hannibal Connecting Railroad passenger trains that took cement workers to and from the factory in Ilasco, although I have read that CB&Q built a set of parallel tracks on Collier street to accommodate those trains.
Gregg Andrews, writing in City of Dust, cites USX Corporation archives, “The Burlington Railroad Company laid an additional track on Collier Street from Main Street to the Minnow Branch bridge just west of Lindell Avenue. This ensured that the concrete plant’s work train, later dubbed “the Polack,” would not interfere with the “Dynamite” train that transported workers to and from a DuPont powder plant at Ashburn, about twenty miles south of Hannibal. The double track would also reduce delays for Atlas’s workers.”
I was enamoured of the various steam locomotives, some big, some small, some with long trains, some with only a few cars, some pulling, some pushing, but all of them boisterous and noisy as they chugged and tooted their way up and down the tracks, some of them spewing black smoke and hot cinders that burned the skin from their belching smoke stacks. A person was wise to stand aside as they passed.
The Wabash Railroad ran along the riverfront, too, and on tracks just behind the Armory on the north bank of Bear Creek. Wabash had a roundhouse at Wardlaw & Lemon Streets, a busy switchyard just past Lindell Avenue, and extended on through Oakwood when it was still outside Hannibal city limits and beyond to Monroe City, Moberly, and points west.
I didn’t know until several decades later that my future wife would occasionally go to work with her daddy, a signalman for CB&Q, who often worked the CB&Q crossing on Main Street, just a couple of blocks from the armory, where he would exit the little shack provided for him as trains approached. He would raise his red flag attached to a wood handle, and flag autos to a stop while the locomotive or train crossed the street.
After 1946, CB&Q’s tracks in Hannibal included the former St. Louis & Hannibal Railway tracks that ran on the south bank of Bear Creek behind the armory, and on many days it seemed that trains ran back and forth past the armory all day long. It was a real treat for me!
The Wabash Railroad switchyard located between Lindell Avenue and what is now named 29th Street is still in use as a transfer yard at the time of this writing. Norfolk Southern drops off cars that are going to destinations in the east, and Burlington Northern picks them up over night for movement to Galesburg and St. Louis areas for further sorting, while dropping off cars in the yard for NS to pick up.
Saint Louis & Hannibal Railway
StL&H Ry ran from Hannibal through New London and Center to Gilmore, north of St. Louis. A branch line that ran from New London to Perry gave the company its local moniker of “The Short Line.” Their roundhouse was situated in Oakwood, just outside Hannibal city limits, so, the railways layout is not detailed in relation to city streets. They ran freight trains and Mack rail busses for passenger service until they closed up shop in March of 1945, just a few months before the end of World War Two.
The three railroads created an interesting railroad crossing in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Lindell Avenue, where three railroad tracks crossed Lindell within two blocks. CB&Q crossed Lindell at Wardlaw in the 1200 block, the Wabash crossed on the north side of Bear Creek, and the St. Louis & Hannibal (later CB&Q) ran on the south side of Bear Creek where it crossed over Lindell to run on the north bank of Mills Creek!
In between Wabash & CB&Q tracks was the 1100 block of Lindell Avenue with several two story businesses with upstairs apartments, a gas station, and a small house or two. But, what I remember most were the taverns, across the street from each other, the Wabash Cafe, and particularly, the glaringly white Lindell Bar Tavern, which had a few short term rental rooms upstairs. My mother told me there were “seedy women” in that tavern. I didn’t know what that was, but the way said those words, I never dared walk on that side of the street, lest I found out what evil abided there!
Below is a 2019 illustrated Google satellite image of the 1100 block of Lindell. The CB&Q track and the St Louis & Hannibal tracks are gone, as is the bridge over Bear Creek. At the bottom right corner of the photo is the east end of the Wabash Yards. The building in the photo is approximately where the Lindell Bar “railroad hotel” once stood, and is itself now gone.
Walking to School
We walked everywhere when I was a boy. Dad had the family car at work, so, if we wanted to go somewhere, we usually had to walk. I walked to and from school, rain or shine, hot or cold until the fourth or fifth grade, when the city bus company ran a west side route that ended at Lindell Avenue and Robinson Street, near the “humpty-dump” bridge which was replaced in 2019.
Eugene Field School, grades 1 through 9, was located on Market Street about 1 ¼ miles from our home at 1709 Vermont. It isn’t possible to walk the same path today, due to street realignment, and other infrastructure changes brought on by decades of change. I would walk to the north end of the 1600 block of Vermont from our house at 1709. There, where the street ended, was a long, very steep, set of concrete steps leading down to Robinson Street.
It was a steep climb up and down. There were handrails made from black galvanized steel pipes and elbows on either side, and a concrete landing pad halfway where we often paused to catch our breath on the way up. In the wintertime, when we had snow on the ground, all the neighborhood children got their sleds out and played on the adjacent hill all day. Sliding down, which always ended too quickly, and climbing up those steep steps, which always took too long.
After reaching Robinson Street, I walked over to Lindell Avenue and the humpty-dump bridge over a little, usually dry, creek. Then, east on Lindell to Market Street, which I followed to the school. There were three railroad crossings I had to cross on Lindell, and it seemed that there were very few times that the crossings were blocked during time to walk to and from school. However, if you lingered after school, for detention or sports practice, you were sure to get to see some railroad activity.
I went to grade school, middle school, and junior high in that same Eugene Field building on Market Street, as separate buildings weren’t built until two years later while I was a junior at Hannibal High School. My sister Jean, and wife, Lea, were in the first class to attend the new Junior High School. The elementary grades were on the ground floor with middle school on the second, and junior high on the third.
If we got in trouble at school, we were also in trouble at home. When we got home, our parents already knew about it, and we got punished again! The principle displayed his paddle on a hook high above his desk, visible through the big glass windows from the hallway. Anyone who got paddled was also visible from the hallway, so it was great motivation to avoid the shame.
I got paddled by the principal once, for learning a new word. I was in the second grade, and I was in the group of best readers in the class. Our readers were the Dick and Jane series. Generations of children learned to read with Dick, Jane, Sally, Puff, and Spot. See Spot run! I liked learning new words, so I loved to read. One day after trading my cafeteria meatloaf for Jim Tate’s fried egg sandwich on homemade bread, I went to the boys’ bathroom before going to the playground. There, on the bottom right corner of the large mirror over the handwashing sinks was something written in red lipstick: FUCK.
What is this, I wondered? I tried to sound it out two or three different ways. The one that sounded most likely to me rhymed with duck.I had no idea what that word was, what the meaning was, how to use it in a sentence, or even if I was saying it correctly. I honestly don’t know how I used that word, or to which classmate I uttered it to on the playground, but, very soon after I got there, I was snatched up by an angry teacher who grabbed me by the arm and asked me, sternly, what I had said. I told her, and was hastily whisked to Principal Rieger’s office, where I had to repeat the word again, was promptly paddled, put on display in the receptionist’s office, and my mother was telephoned to come get me.
My mother didn’t drive in those days, and we only had the one car in the family, so she had to call dad at work at the armory, have him come home to pick her up and then come to the school to find out why the principal had “kept Larry out of class.” Meanwhile, I had to sit in that window-glass outer office, where every passing student and teacher could see me obviously out of place and in detention. And, at that point I still wasn’t aware what I had done wrong, but it had something to do with that new word.
When my parents arrived, dad in his army fatigue uniform, and mom in a housedress and rushed makeup, we were all quickly ushered back into the principal’s office where I was forced to say that word again. It was painful. I knew there was something bad associated with that word. But, I had to say it. There was not going to be an end to this until I said the word. I said it. My mother cried. I knew I broke her heart, but didn’t know why. My dad just turned slightly away, out of embarrassment.
They were both shocked! Mother was now sobbing, dabbing at her eyes with her frilly hankerchief. They had no idea where I would have heard that word! I explained, in all my innocence, that I had just a few minutes ago seen it for the first time written on the bathroom mirror and sounded it out, but I was not believed. I, confused, angry, and with my pride hurt, insisted that I could show them where I saw it. So, we all paraded to the boys bathroom, Mr Rieger in the lead, where they found the word printed in red lipstick above the last sink.
Mr Rieger quickly grabbed a handful of toilet paper from the closest stall, vigorously wiped the lipstick into an unreadable smear. We then returned to his office where he explained to me that the word was not to be used at school, that he would find out who scribbled it there, they would get a good paddling and detention. I was sent home for the rest of the day, and I don’t recall another word being spoken on the way. I spent the rest of the school day in my bed, reading. Learning more new words. That was the end of that.
About 1953 or 1954, when I was in about the fourth or fifth grade, dad bought a four room house at 1709 Vermont, in Hannibal for $5,000. It had natural gas heaters in the two bedrooms, and a natural gas kitchen stove. The house was a basic four room single level structure with a kitchen, dining/living room with hardwood floors, two bedrooms and a bathroom with a toilet, sink and enough floor space to wedge in a number two wash tub for taking baths.
There was a small basement under the house below the kitchen and girls’ bedroom. It had a hinged wooden double door that covered the steps. You had to lift the doors and fold them back out of the way to go down the stairs. At the bottom was an old wooden door with badly peeling dark green paint.
The basement is where we stored our canned foods, and dad had a small workbench on one wall. The concrete sides had been painted many times over the years, and then bore an institutional type gray livery. There was only one small window, no lights, so the room seemed really dark, and the best light came from the open cellar doors. The cellar always smelled musty to me. I think it was the wood shelving that lined the walls and held dozens and dozens of canned fruits, veggies, meats, and treats like jams, jellies and sweet sauces.
Dad, with the help of finish carpenters “Pop” (Tony White, my maternal great-grandfather) and his son, my Grandpa (Wallace White), expanded the bathroom out onto the back porch so a bathtub/shower could be installed. I adored the shower, because I no longer had any desire to sit in the ceramic tub, even though it was a lot nicer than the galvanized washtub! I just enjoyed the idea of having only clean water running over my body. No more rinsing off in dirty, soapy, gray water!
Dad and his inlaw crew also built an additional room on the back of the house that became the boy’s bedroom and an additional expansion of the back porch/pantry/storage area. He built the bedroom using tongue and groove Knotty pine lumber, along with wood he scavenged from gun cases from the National Guard Armory, where he worked. Knotty pine was very popular in kitchen decors throughout the 1950s because of the rustic appeal it achieved.
The boy’s bedroom was a nice and roomy with a large closet and two doors; a new one into the girls’ bedroom on what had been the back of the house, and another to the back porch, just off the back of the kitchen. My younger sisters, Jean Ann and Pamela occupied the girls’ bedroom, while my baby brother, David, and I shared the boy’s bedroom.
When the back rooms were added to the house, essentially creating a six room house, Dad installed a natural gas floor furnace in the crawl space under the boys bedroom. It proved to be much more efficient than a coal oil stove, as it required no daily feeding, and took up no floor space. Dad eventually added another, larger model floor furnace in the kitchen floor, serving the kitchen and front/living room, and also ran duct work to the girl’s bedroom.
In later years, when mother’s sister Aunt Charlotte came to live with us, an extra bed was put up in the girls’ room. After Charlotte got married and moved to her own home, Aunt Pat came to live with us. Pat was only two years older than me. She seemed like an adult to me, since she was already in high school, and we became fast friends.
The house at 1709 Vermont was on one of Hannibal’s many red clay and limestone hills, at the western city limits, with Mill’s Creek, a wide, shallow, often dry, spring fed creek, below us on Route O. The creek eventually flowed into Bear Creek at the railroad bridges on Lindell Avenue a few blocks east, and finally into the Mississippi River on Hannibal’s east edge. We spent many hours playing in the water, cooling off on hot days, marvelling at the layers of rock in shale, and the fossils and occasional arrowhead we discovered.
The Swinging Bridge
Mill’s creek had a long suspension pedestrian bridge across it, where Johnson Street meets Route O just west of Robinson & Lindell, former location of the humpty dump bridge, and was the source of lots of fun. It was anchored on either side with large cables attached to massive posts driven into the ground, and had a wood slat walkway. Johnson Street didn’t exist in its present form back then, as cars would drive down a slope from Route O, ford the water, and drive up the gravel slope on the other side.
The suspension bridge was several feet above the cars that passed below, and would swing back and forth with every step just by shifting your body weight. There were many times we would get several playmates on the bridge to see how far we could make it swing. Of course, it was too well anchored to swing very far, but it was exciting just to try it.
We fished, swam, caught crawdads and skipped rocks on the creek throughout my early years. We made frequent trips up and down the creek, walking barefoot in the water, looking at the shale and rocks and collecting stone arrowheads. Many of the rocks had impressions of leaves and small fossils trapped eons ago. They were fascinating, and they caused much excitement when we found a large fossil imprint, as we wondered at how the impressions could have been molded, since the item that left the mold was long gone.
The black shale was made up of many thin layers that we could easily pry apart with our hands, with occasional assistance from a nearby stick. It readily split into thin pieces along the laminations, often revealing mysterious fossils that created a lot of fascination and wonderment for us. I don’t know what happened to all those “treasures” I collected back then, but suppose they were discarded as my interests turned to other things.
One of the little tricks I learned from other neighborhood boys was to make a fishing pole out of a willow tree twig. Willow is a very flexible wood, bending with the slightest pressure. In fact, it bent so easily, that if you got a good-sized Bluegill or Sunfish on the line, it made it a lot of fun to try to land it. But, if you got a catfish, which is a strong fish, and fights pretty good, the willow pole was so flexible it was useless, and we’d have to grab the fishing line itself to land the fish.
I was in blue-uniform-gold-neckerchief Cub Scouts during those formative years, Mrs. Riefesel was our den leader. We had our den meetings at her house at the corner of Montana and Dean streets. That house is now gone, but it had a full width front porch facing Montana where we often did craft skills that were too messy for indoors. Her son, Darryl, was also a Cub Scout.
I took earning my merit badges very seriously. I liked learning new things, and studied really hard to be able to advance to the next level. It was a singular achievement for me when I earned my Arrow of Light, and advanced to Webelos, and later into Boy Scouts.
There were several tall, old, trees that lined our side of the street for the length of our two-lots wide lawn, in our front yard. Mother had whitewashed the trees up to about four feet from the ground, a practice she had seen in Georgia while visiting my dad at Fort Gordon. How grand they looked!
Three of the trees were hollow at the base, and we could back into the hollows to stand inside the trees. This was a great place to hide during hide and seek, or when you wanted to give a passerby a good scare. They were a great place to hide secret stuff, too, because the hollows were all on the lawn side, hidden from the street, and the treasures could be hidden under a few leaves.
We had a very large yard. It was two lots wide and two lots deep. The empty lot to the side of the house was where we played, and the backlot, separated from the front by a privet hedge, was where we planted our garden and parked our cars. Dad would pay a neighbor to bring his old tractor to plow up and harrow the garden each spring, and we children would examine the freshly turned soil for worms and diamonds and gold. Usually we only found worms, so we collected those, put them in a tin can with dirt, and took them fishing down the hill in Mill’s creek.
We all worked in the garden pulling weeds and hoeing it regularly. It was hard work, and we were easily distracted by opportunities to do more interesting things, but we got lots of fruits and vegetables from it, including sweet corn, string beans, green beans, potatoes, beets, cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, squash and melons. Harvest time was a busy time for everyone, as we learned to snap beans, shuck corn, shell peas, dig potatoes, and prepare all sorts of food that were canned for the winter. And, when we were finished “putting up” our harvest, we’d go help our aunt, Betty Hoffman, or great-grandmother, “Mom” White, do their canning. We preferred helping Aunt Betty, because we could play with her children, our cousins, so you know how much help we were.
The canned food was neatly lined up on heavy wooden shelves that lined three walls in the small basement, which had only an outside entrance with double doors and a set of concrete steps down to the doorway, and one very small window with an inside shutter. The shutter was usually closed to prevent sunlight from shining on the food, and was only removed when we were actually in the basement and needed the light.
During the winter we would have to sweep the snow off the basement door to go down for canned food! This was a chore not one of us liked, but being the oldest of four children, it usually was my job. I got pretty good at sweeping right through the middle, where the two doors met, and then flinging each door open, throwing the remaining snow as far as I could fling it. Down the concrete steps was another exterior door with a glass window that opened into the basement. We had to be careful to keep all the doors closed when not in use, because the occasional snake liked the cool, dark, recess provided by the pit.
Sometimes, during canning season, we would go down into the basement with mother and box up some of our excess jars of canned foods, pack them in the trunk of the car, and take them to our various relatives to trade for foods they canned that we didn’t have. One relative had “put up” blackberries, another canned raspberries, peaches, pears, others did jams, jellies, pickled green beans, pickled beets, pickled peaches, watermelon rind pickles. A neighbor did tomato salsa, green tomato relish, and a variety of sauces, including spaghetti and an earthy chili sauce. Rhubarb-Strawberry Chutney was one of my favorites, along with apple butter, and pickles of all kinds, but particularly the large dill pickles.
It was like being a kid in a candy store while browsing through other people’s canned goodies, or looking at the tempting jars of delicious looking foods proudly displayed on the kitchen table. Mother and whomever we would be visiting would discuss the various foods being considered for trading as each sang the merits of the food they were proposing to trade. The discussion often got into details of flavor, and it often meant that we children would get to have a treat at each house at which we stopped. Ample reward for the work we had done!
The basement floor was sometimes wet, particularly after a hard rain. Often we would drag the garden hose down into the basement and wash down and sweep the floor, working all the water and debris to the drain in the center of the floor. We would then leave the doors open during the daytime to let it air out and dry, making sure they got closed before dark when the creepy crawly things came out.
One summer, when I was 10 or 11 years old, the basement drain got clogged after a particularly hard rain, and it flooded the whole room up to my knees. No amount of probing with a drain snake would open the drain, which meant Dad had to take other drastic measures.
I “helped” Dad dig up the sewer line for several feet from the basement wall out into the side yard so we could get down to and clean out the years old mud sediment and old bottle caps and other debris in the red clay sewer pipe tiles. As Dad dug up the damp sticky red clay common in that area to get down to the sewer line, he piled the clay up on top on one side of the ditch “we” were digging. The red-orange clay sewer pipes were about 6″ in diameter and approximately 5 feet long . . . too big and bulky for me to handle.
Dad lifted each piece of the heavy, mud clogged, clay sewer pipes up out of the end of the seven foot deep ditch and laid them out side by side in the yard a few feet away from the trench so the undamaged ones could be cleaned and prepped to be returned to the pipeline later. I didn’t mind the job he gave me, because it was mainly spraying the water into each tile with the garden hose to wash out the mud. And, it was interesting to see what tidbits had gotten through that drain into the sewer pipe.
Meanwhile Dad was using a hinged, hand operated, auger to make sure the line was clear from where he had dug up the most recent piece of pipe back to the main sewer. Once that was done he turned to cleaning the line back toward the basement. He was working at the house foundation wall at about seven feet deep, augering out the mud between him and the basement, removing pipes as he slowly advanced toward the house.
I was washing off the sewer tiles with the garden hose and using a straw broom to sweep off the sticky mud when I heard Dad grunt something like, “Ah ha!” I looked up just in time to see him get a face full of stinky muddy water screaming down the trench he was standing in, slammed against the walls, and whooshed up into the air, spraying everything within 15 feet with stinky, sticky, mud!
Dad climbed out of the trench, covered head to foot in stink, groaning and retching as he extricated himself and snatched up the garden hose where I had dropped it as I ran. He lifted the hose up over his head, moving side to side and back and forth, letting the water stream down his body, washing off as much filth as he could. When he was finally satisfied that he was reasonably clean, we turned to cleaning up the rest of the mess. The lawn was so dirty, we had to put a special nozzle on the hose to spray down the entire area to move the mud off to the side where it was out of the way. The trench was now too wet and nasty to work in, so that ended the work for that day. Dad had to take a very long, hot, shower and change clothes after that episode, and we didn’t return to completing that job for a few days.
When it was time to resume the project, and with a few replacement drain pipe tiles in hand, Dad relaid the sewer line and filled in the ditch. He sowed some grass seed, and before long, you couldn’t even tell the sewer pipe episode ever occurred. I don’t know about Dad, but I never forgot the odor of that stinky, sticky mud that had laid in the sewer pipe for so long!
The Side Yard
The side yard is where we usually played, between our house and Henry Pickett’s. The hollowed out trees were on the front edge of the yard, running along Vermont Street, with the neighbor’s empty double yard adjoining ours. It was pretty ideal for young children who played outside most of the time.
One time, during the spring, Dad built a concrete goldfish pond in the side yard, and we took great delight in watching the plaster covered concrete cure, and then filled it with water from the garden hose. He bought half a dozen goldfish and food that we could feed them with.
It was really fun watching the fish grow. After a few weeks, however, when it got hot under the blaring midwest sun, the water in the pond heated up so much the goldfish died. I vividly remember coming home from school, and going out into the yard to see our goldfish pond and discovering all the fish floating lifelessly. It caused us great grief, as it may have been the first time we had experienced the sudden loss caused by death. The pond was subsequently broken up, filled in, and covered over.
During the winter, when there was snow on the ground, Dad would hook up the garden hose and spray the side yard. This created a big ice rink when the water froze, and gave us many hours of fun playing on the ice. We built many “forts” and igloos out of snow in the winters in that side yard, and neighborhood snowball fights were the order of the day after school, and on weekends.
One of my chores, during the summer, was to help mow the grass. This was in the days before powered mowers. We had a push type reel mower. The handle of the mower came up to about my nose, which made it hard for me to push. But, Dad took great care in keeping the blades sharp, and wheels well oiled, so the mower worked as easily as could be expected. Of course, when Dad mowed with it, he went as fast as he could walk, and you could see the grass clippings just fly into the air!
I don’t think I was really much help in mowing that big yard, but it was important to Dad that I learned to work and take care of my responsibilities. So, I usually mowed the front yard and around the whitewashed trees along the street, which would take me all evening one night after school, and he mowed the rest of the yard. Eventually, I had only to mow the part in front of the house, and Dad did the rest on the weekend with a gasoline powered mower. It wasn’t as much about helping him as it was learning to take responsibility and following through. A quick look on Google Earth indicates that there is now a residence on that side yard.
Remember Lawn Darts? Well, I had my own version using those little Ben Franklin 5-cent wood darts for dart boards, long before Lawn Darts came to market. I liked to throw my darts up in the air, as high as I could, and watch them slow, turn over point down, and then begin to drop, hopefully to land in or near some target I had selected. Once, I took my five-year-younger brother out into the yard with me, thinking that he, too, would enjoy watching the dart.
With him standing at my side, I threw the dart as hard as I could, hoping to reach new heights. As soon as I threw it, my brother started running for the house. I yelled at him to “stop! stop!” He kept running. I yelled “stop!” again. He did. The arrow landed directly in the top of his head, and he immediately took off, screaming toward the house with that dart waving side to side as he ran. My parents helped me understand that I was no longer interested in darts that evening. My brother loves to tell this story, although his spin is a little different than mine.
After I had been in Cub Scouts for a couple of years, my sisters joined a Brownie Scout circle. We tended to do a lot of crafty projects as we worked toward the next merit badge we wanted to achieve. At one point I remember crafting a primitive axe out of a stick I split at the end, and tied a rock in place in the fork. It was part of a Native American Indian merit badge project that also involved a homemade teepee.
In the photo above, is the primitive battle ax I made, being yielded by my youngest sister pretending to attack my little brother, while the older sister threatens with my homemade bow and arrow. The photo was taken in the knotty pine addition to the house, built by my father. No one was injured in the staged action, except that my brother may have suffered lifelong emotional trauma, as he often did. :-).
My uncle, Bill Vaughn, was a producer for KHQA-TV in Hannibal, and later for WGEM-TV in Quincy, Illinois in the days before local television stations had recording equipment. Local TV commercials were usually live, with an announcer reading the content while various snapshots were shown on air. Uncle Bill played the piano for background music as announcers read commercials, while the studio cameras showed the product or service.
He was an accomplished vocalist, too, and was always singing “tunes” that were probably jingles for commercials and themes for local live programs. On several occasions he would have us come from Hannibal over to Quincy to perform on a live television commercial. For the simple ones, we would drink from our glass of milk on cue, and then I would say, “Man, that’s good milk!” Our reward was to get to eat the cookies or brownies displayed on the table with the milk.
We did several commercials where we drank or poured Prairie Farms milk. We also pretended to be the audience for locally produced shows, such as live promos for Cactus Jim, portrayed by Dick Moore, who did a children’s show called the Cactus Club. Sometimes we actually were in the audience for his show, which was sponsored by Prairie Farms milk.
On one occasion, Dad took us to perform in a TV commercial acting as Native American Indians. He set up our homemade tee pee in the studio, while stagehands worked on lighting and background props, including Cactus Jim’s wood rail fence. Meanwhile, we stood around in costume, waiting, until it was time to perform.
Jean and I were in buckskin style outfits with lots of fringe, while Pam was in her Brownie skirt with a plain blouse. I had just finished work on my Cub Scout American Indian Folklore merit badge, and as part of that, had fashioned a costume, the axe seen earlier, and something that looked somewhat like a teepee made from Willow tree branches and a surplus army wool blanket or two.
Jean and I were to perform what we liked to think of as an Indian dance around the fire in front of the teepee, while Pam, just visible inside the tent, stirred a pestle in a mortar, as though grinding grain. Soon, the red light on the studio camera lit up, the producer gave us a 30-second heads up, and started counting down.
On his signal, the action started, and we continued until he yelled, “cut!” We knew that somewhere out of our earshot, there was someone reading a commercial, telling about some service or product, and we were helping make the point. Of course, there were no recordings in those days, so we never got to see how it looked to the audience.
On one of special trip, I had lunch with my Uncle Bill and William Boyd, who played Hopalong Cassidy in sixty-six movies, many of which I had seen in local theaters.
He was on a promotional tour to get television stations to run his movies, which had already played at the theaters, as he thought he might be able to reach a new audience through television.
Boyd spent $350,000 to obtain the rights to his old films, and approached the fledgling NBC network about running his series. He had then gone on a promotional tour to individual TV stations to drum up demand for his shows.
Hopalong Cassidy became the first network Western television series and Boyd became indelibly associated with the Hopalong character and, like the cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, gained lasting fame in the Western film genre.
I remember that I wasn’t very impressed with meeting Boyd because he was wearing a suit and tie, and didn’t look anything like a cowboy! I guess I was too young to understand, and was greatly underwhelmed that he was just a normal man. Besides, his suit wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Hopalong Cassidy prominently displayed on my school lunch box and in my collection of comics.
I was anxious to reach my twelfth birthday, because at that age I was eligible to become an independent sales representative for Grit newspapers. Grit was a weekly publication that carried a lot of national news, and was mailed to me on Tuesday, arrived Friday, and I delivered on Saturday. Shortly after turning twelve, I ordered the minimum number of newspapers (25), using money I had been saving, and set out to build my business.
Going door to door in and around my neighborhood on Saturdays, I built my route up until I had several loyal weekly customers. I remember being so proud when I received an unexpected sales trophy from Grit, after reaching a certain level of customers. I proudly displayed that trophy in my room for several months until it got broken and had to be discarded.
I sold Grit for a couple of years, winter and summer, until it finally became apparent that I wasn’t ever going to make enough money off the route to be worthwhile, and gave it up, converting many of my customers to Grit’s weekly mail service.
The old bicycle Dad had bought me a few years before was requiring a lot of maintenance to keep it going. It was a used bike when I got it, and I was so short, Dad had taped big wooden blocks on each side of the pedals so I could reach them.
As I grew, the wood blocks became smaller and smaller, until I could finally reach the pedals themselves. But, over the years, the inner tubes had become so rotten that I was constantly putting rubber patches on them and usually ended my paper route having to push the bicycle, because the tire had gone flat!
The professional wrestling matches were quite a big event back then, drawing large crowds to the monthly events at the armory. A boxing ring was set up in the center of the floor, in the middle of the basketball court, with hundreds of metal chairs in neat rows set up on all sides of it. It was quite a sight to see, and the entertainment the wrestlers provided was usually just a little shy of fair and honest, but, it was the good guy that usually won. Often times it was Gorgeous George, who won mainstream popularity in that time. He was “pretty,” usually played fair, was picked on by the cheating villains, but surprisingly won in the end, to the delight of the crowd.
Dick The Bruiser
Dick “The Bruiser” Afflis was a true villain who always had a scowl on his face. All the boys wanted to be tough like him. One evening while at a match in the old Milwaukee Arena he had been disqualified for roughness while grappling with The Mighty Atlas. Then, outside the ring, he made national news while pacing like a wild, irate, noisy, bull, as though he was burning to jump back in the ring to settle the score.
Supporters in the crowd assured him, “You’ll get him next time,“ but the youngsters in the audience never felt more scared in their lives. He was very angry, apparently with everyone, and he was right there on the floor with them noisily tossing metal folding chairs that clanged loudly on the concrete floor! It was good PR for professional wrestling. Dick Afflis earned his nickname “the bruiser” while playing defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers during the mid 1950s.
Dad, and other National Guardsmen, ran a concession stand those wrestling weekends, from a kitchen adjacent to the drill floor. The kitchen had a passthrough window counter that opened up so that patrons could buy chili soup and sandwiches from the drill floor where the match took place.
I recall the huge cooking utensils the men used in the kitchen, particularly the stock pots filled with chili, soups, and stews. It seemed to me that the coffee pots were big enough to make gallons of coffee, and the stock pots were about as tall as I was! Even the spoons and ladles they used seemed enormous!
It was during one of the wrestling matches that I was sent to the stock room to retrieve something for the kitchen, and I walked past the guest lounge where the wrestlers were sitting around a table having snacks and smoking as they socialized as though they weren’t mortal enemies. I was dumbstruck!
There were all these wrestlers who were sworn rivals in the ring, legendary villains and good guys, newsworthy combatants, sitting around a table together talking and sipping soft drinks just like normal people! I was crushed, as the illusion of professional wrestling evaporated! I’m sure the impact of that trauma left a lifelong scar!
It is funny to look back and realize how God’s plan is always at work. It turns out that my future wife was at many of those same wrestling matches that I worked as a volunteer. She wrote in her autobiography, “I remember that he (daddy) loved to go to wrestling matches at the Admiral Coontz Armory. Mother rarely went, but Daddy would take Bob, Jim and me. My brothers would run off to play with the other boys, but Mother made Daddy promise to keep me right by his side.
There weren’t many girls or women at the matches but I loved to go. The popcorn, soda, candy, and hot dogs, were the best! The wrestlers were very funny looking. The one I recall most was Gorgeous George. He had big muscles, long blonde hair, and wore wild costumes in bright colors with sparkles or animal prints, such as leopard spots. The other wrestlers loved to pull his hair, and Daddy would get really excited and yell for Gorgeous George to get a sleeper hold!
There were also women wrestlers, and Daddy loved to watch these matches. The women would actually take hold of the other’s hair and throw them across the ring. All of the men loved to watch them and hear them holler and scream at each other.”
I attended elementary and junior high school at Eugene Field School in Hannibal. The school was located at Houston and Market Streets, across from Levering Hospital, and diagonally from a fire station. Playgrounds were located on two sides of the school, with a third playground across Houston street, and behind a house on Pearl Street, east of the school. The playgrounds were always in use, it seems, with different age groups on different playgrounds.
There were no black children in our school, since they all attended Douglas School, several blocks away, and went to a different church than we did. We rarely saw any black children except at public events, and we all pretty much kept to our own groups, although I don’t recall any animosity or hard feelings between any of us. I was aware, however, that the blacks were different than us, and socializing with them was unacceptable.
I didn’t realize that we were segregated, never heard anyone talk about it, and didn’t give it a second thought. When we got to high school we played sports together and had many shared classes, but, still, after school we all went home, or we went to work. We didn’t have the money to sit around in cafes or ice cream shops, although we spent a lot of time out of doors to occupy ourselves.
Back in the days when I was a youngster, following World War II, cigarette and cigar companies used to advertise on radio and TV, in newspapers, magazines, and on billboards along the highway. The ads proclaimed the satisfaction of improved social standing if you smoked their brand. Lucky Strike and Camels targeted “real men” who wanted a full, rich smoke. Ads often showed a man with a pack of Lucky’s rolled up in the sleeve of his white tee shirt. The ads all showed admiring girls with the guys with these smokes.
There were Winston, Pall Mall, Old Gold, Chesterfield, Raleigh, and other brands, who tried to appeal to men and women. Their ads talked more about flavor and satisfaction. The ads showed social situations where the smokers were being admired for their choice of the brand they were smoking.
The ads led a person to believe they would be more socially acceptable and admired by others if they were a smoker. It wasn’t until I was an adult that it was determined that smoking was harmful, and all cigarette and cigar advertising was tightly controlled. First the ads disappeared from radio and TV, and the printed ads changed the tone of their messages to downplay the importance to social standing of smoking.
I remember as a nine or ten year old, sneaking a cigarette from mother or dad’s open pack, and going down into the basement to smoke it. I didn’t much like the taste, and the smoke burned my eyes, but after all, we were convinced that it was important in those days to be big enough to smoke!
One day mom caught me going down into the basement to have a smoke with a cigarette I took from her open pack, and drug me out by the ear. Then, she called the neighbor lady, Mrs Adair, and had her come to our house. We she arrived, mom gave me the lit cigarette and told me to show Mrs Adair how to smoke it. I was SO embarrassed, and let most of it burn to ashes while I protested to no avail.
On several of our family trips to Elkhart, Uncle Don (9 months younger than me) and I would walk downtown to a cigar store in Elkhart, Indiana and buy a Rum Soaked Crook cigar. They were two for five cents, so we’d get one apiece. They were pretty nasty tasting cigars, but the tip was soaked in a sweet dip, so they left a nice taste on the lips. We sure thought we were big, smoking cigars while hidden under the train trestle near their home on Pacific Street!
We never had enough cash to buy a whole pack of cigarettes . . . they cost nineteen cents! But, we could usually find enough discarded empty pop bottles with deposit refunds along the streets and alleys that we could turn them in and get a nickel to buy a couple of those cigars. Those glass bottles had a return value of half a cent in Elkhart, so once we had found ten of them, we’d take them to a grocery store and get our nickel.
Childhood Illnesses and Injuries
Shortly after my family moved back to Hannibal from Elkhart in 1947, we rented the upstairs back room of 1505 Vermont from my great-grandparents “Mom & Pop” White. The two story house was built in 1850 in the European style with four large rooms, one at each corner, with two smaller “parlor” rooms in the middle on either side of the house, and two story wrap around porches. The house was located on a double corner lot at Vermont Street and Clark Avenue.
Our bedroom had two full beds, wardrobe, a gas heater that sat in one corner, and a toilet stool in what used to be a closet. Pam slept with Mom and Dad, and the rest of us shared the other bed.
We had lost all family and personal belongings when the trailer tipped over and spilled all our possessions into the river in Illinois. Practically, all we had was the clothes on our backs, a blanket that Grandmother Vaughn had given us when we stopped in Kahoka after the trailer wreck. Mother split it in two, and that was what we had for covers for our bed.
I developed severe congestion and had such trouble breathing that mother said I was turning blue. She called for Dr. Landau. He came to the house and gave me an injection that quickly cleared up the congestion, and I apparently had no more bouts as severe as that. I recall, however, throughout my childhood I had sinus congestion every night, and really didn’t ever get past that until late in adulthood with the help of nasal spays and decongestant tablets.
I recall as a child, at night, I would put off turning from one side to the other while in bed, because I knew that I would have to spend several minutes trying to clear a nasal passage so I could breathe through my nose. I couldn’t lay on my back because both nostrils would clog up and I would have to breathe through my mouth, which just wasn’t restful. In those days there just wasn’t any medication to help.
As time went on, mom said that my family was able to rent the parlor that adjoined our upstairs bedroom at 1505 Vermont, which then served as the children’s bedroom. Dr. Landau was again called to the house when my oldest sister, Jean Ann, and I broke out with measles.
Dr. Landau said to put us in a bed together and keep us separate from everyone else until the illness ran its course. Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease that manifests 10–12 days after exposure to an infected person, and lasts 7–10 days. Evidently the recommendation worked, as Pam was kept in the other room, and escaped infection.
When I was about eight years old, I stepped on a rusty nail while playing in our backyard behind the house at 1709 Vermont. The nail was no doubt a remnant of Dad’s construction of the back rooms, and discarded pieces of lumber with old nails protruding from the ends were scattered about the work area.
We had a gray striped cat named Minerva that I was playing with at the time, and I jumped from the back porch step onto the pile of boards, trying to catch her, and landed squarely on a nail protruding from a board below the one I aimed for!
The nail went through the leather sole of my shoe and into the tender flesh behind the ball of my foot. The pain was awful, but the realization that I was now attached to this huge piece of lumber that stabbed me with excruciating pain every time I moved, was horrifying! I am sure I must have screamed because my mom came running from the kitchen, started crying and wailing with horror.
Our next door neighbor, Mrs. Adair, heard the commotion, and hurried over from her garden to see if she could help. She quickly understood what had happened, stepped on the board to hold it down, and mom grabbed my shoe and jerked my foot off the nail to much loud wailing, crying and hand wringing by everyone. Soon my foot was being soaked in a pan of warm soapy water. I was surprised that it didn’t bleed much at all, but wore myself out crying any way.
After limping on my sore foot for a couple of days, it became more painful and I developed a fever. Dr. Landau came to our house to look at my wound and sent me to Levering Hospital for treatment. Rust by itself is not dangerous, but if you step on a rusty nail or get cut by a rusty item, it can be fatal. Minor infection of the wound is the least of the injured person’s worries. The threat of tetanus, lockjaw, or even gangrene is the worst, because it may quickly advance beyond the treatable stage.
I don’t remember a lot about that hospital stay, other than I got 114 shots in my buttcheeks over the next week, and when I was released from the hospital I returned to school at Eugene Field Elementary. My butt was so sore I couldn’t get comfortable sitting in those hardwood classroom desks, and wiggled so constantly trying to find a way to sit, that the teacher, Mrs. Perry, kept getting after me to “sit still!.” Well, I couldn’t, and she got so irritated with me that she took me to the principal’s office for a paddling.
I stood outside Mr. Rieger’s office while she made her case for discipline. I saw him get the large wooden paddle from where it was displayed up high on the wall, and lay it on his desk. As Mrs. Perry disappeared down the hall, nose in the air, Mr. Rieger came to his office door and motioned me inside. He explained what Mrs. Perry had said, and asked why I was disturbing the class.
I told him, “Because I hurt so much from being in the hospital!” He asked what I meant, so I pulled down my jeans and underpants and showed him my badly bruised butt. I told him, “They gave me 114 shots!” He looked at the bruising and sent me home and told me to stay home until I could sit still.
Mom said that it seemed every time dad went off to summer camp with the National Guard, three years in a row, one of the kids stepped on a rusty nail in the discard pile which had now been moved to the unfinished garage. Jean Ann and Pam both stepped on one, and had to get tetanus shots right away. The discarded boards soon ended up in a bonfire.
At age eleven or twelve, I developed an ugly reddish-purple infected abscess nearly the size of a golf ball on the right side of my chin. It is unknown what caused it, but in recent years we have come to wonder if it wasn’t an insect or spider bite. It was pus filled, and made the entire right side of my face feel stiff.
The abscess was painful to touch, and when Dr. Landau first saw it, he tried to squeeze it like a pimple, but it hurt me so much I yelled out in pain. He made a small incision and got a lot of bloody pus from it. He said that it needed to have surgery.
So, I was once again admitted to Levering Hospital, where I donned a hospital gown and was wheeled to the operating room. I remember lying back on a hard bed under a very bright circular light suspended above me. A hard pillow was placed under my neck to raise my chin in the air.
Someone in white clothing placed a cone shaped mask that looked like a modern day coffee filter over my mouth and nose. An eye dropper appeared between the mask and the light. I saw a drop of clear liquid (Ether) fall from the tip of the eyedropper onto the mask, where it landed with a subtle “thump!” Then another dropped, and the person in white said, “Count backwards from 100.” I think I counted to 97.
I later woke up in a hospital room with two beds. The second bed was not being used, and the curtain dividing the room was pulled back. There were two chairs pulled up alongside my bed, and there was jello and a small bottle of milk on the side table. As I started wondering if I was interested in those, I began to realize that I had a huge compress bandage on my chin and up over the top of my head. Then I began to remember what had happened, right up until I counted backwards.
I stayed in the hospital for a few more days, until Dr. Landau was satisfied that the abscess was healing properly and could be kept clean in a home environment. He knew where and how we lived, so I think he may have kept me hospitalized to avoid putting any more burden on mother.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed reading my book-of-the-month adventure novels, the occasional visits by nurses and candy stripers, and meals in bed. Children weren’t allowed to visit in those days, so mom would bring drawings and notes when she came to check on me in the evenings.
I knew Jim Tate from grade school at Eugene Field School, and were in the same class play our third year.
We were in the same class in the fifth grade, too. Jim was a pretty rough-and-tough boy, and was serious about any kind of competition. But, he had a sense of humor and happy outlook that made him fun to know. We played kickball, dodgeball, and marbles together.
He usually brought a lunch to school in a plain brown paper sack, while I usually bought a weekly lunch ticket to eat in the school cafeteria. We ate many lunches together, and I often traded something from my food tray for a sandwich or dessert he had brought in his lunch sack. I really liked his fried egg sandwiches because of the homemade bread his mom made!
On two or three occasions I remember going to his house after school, and that’s where I may have first met my future bride. Of course, she was two years younger than me, so I don’t even remember noticing her on those visits. I don’t remember much about the house they lived in, either, but that it was down the hill from the school playground, near Collier Street.
I don’t think young children pay much attention to that sort of thing, but I do recall that there seemed to be an awful lot of people in such a small house, and there seemed to be several still in diapers running around it. I later learned that her mother was babysitting several toddlers in their four room home.
Jim and I were good friends that year, and I was sorry when school started the next year to discover that they had moved, and he had gone to another school clear across town. I saw him two or three times over the next few years when our junior high football teams played against each other, but lived on opposite sides of town, so we didn’t socialize.
We were on opposing football teams, and though we didn’t have any time to visit, we remained friends. I played right tackle or blocker for my team, and he was on the left for his, which meant we played almost directly across from each other! I quickly learned that being his friend didn’t mean that he was going to cut you any slack. He was pretty brutal!
In later years, when we were ready to start high school, we signed up to work on a hay hauling crew, where we made a half cent for each bale of hay we picked up in the field, loaded a truck or trailer, and hauled it to the barn where it would be stored in the loft. We worked all that summer on a hay crew, and decided the next summer we would run our own crew, so we would get the full penny-and-a-half for each bale we hauled, plus another penny for the truck we used.
Eugene Field Ranger
I don’t recall why Eugene Field School wasn’t part of the School Boy Safety Patrol, those students who served as crossing guards before and after school, but it may have been because of the cost of the metal badges the national program provided. Instead, our school started the “Field Rangers.”
We wore the white shoulder belts of the School Boy Patrol, but didn’t have the badge. We performed crossing guard duty, each member being assigned a corner, and playground safety patrol. We worked the crossings before and after school, and patrolled the playgrounds at lunch time.
I was a Field Ranger from the third through seventh grades, and had pretty well worn my patrol belt out by the time I went to junior high school. During those years, I worked first at the Pearl Street and Houston Street crossings, and eventually the Market Street school crossing before and after school and during the lunch period.
I spent most of my recesses patrolling playgrounds. In later years, though, as I became involved in football and school plays, many of these duties had to be turned over to others, due to conflicts in my after school schedule.
I played football for Field School in the eighth and ninth grades, and later played for Hannibal High School. One of the other junior high activities I enjoyed was being in several of the school plays. Glee Club was fun, too, although I never was much of a singer. I made up for it by being abrasively loud until Mrs Gibbs suggested that I should find another, more suitable, activity.
Lunch Hour Socials
In those days, Field School used to show 16 millimeter projected cartoons during the lunch hour, and many of us children enjoyed the break in the day to enjoy some laughter, particularly in the winter, when it was too cold to be outside. The school also had dances during the lunch hour for the older children. Music was played on a record player hooked up to the sound system in the auditorium.
Teachers were always available to teach some basic dance steps, and there were couples who danced, but many of us usually just watched. Coming from a strict Baptist family, dancing was frowned upon. So, I never felt comfortable on the dance floor. I did enjoy the music however, and the chance to check out the girls. They were interesting for some reason, though I wasn’t sure why.
I joined a Cub Scout pack when I was in the first grade. Mrs. Riefesel was the den leader. Her son, Mike had just entered the first grade as well. Most den meetings were held in their dining room or the backyard at their house at the corner of Montana and Dean Streets. We also did many craft projects on their front porch. Scouting promotes character development, citizenship, personal hygiene and fitness, so we always had a short lesson or exercise in each of those areas at each meeting.
We got to wear our uniforms to school on den meeting days, and I felt particularly proud in the third grade when I was promoted from Bear to Lion and also became a Field Ranger. That meant that I got to work at a street crossing as a crossing guard, on a den meeting day, in my scout uniform.
When I gained enough seniority, I worked the busiest crossing, which was on Market Street, with Levering Hospital directly across. I felt particularly proud when I would hold the children back so an ambulance could pass safely by on the way to the hospital’s emergency room.
I went on into Webelos after Cub Scouts. A webelos scout is reverent toward God, faithful in his religious duties, and respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion. Webelos is an opportunity to learn about and practice religious faith. I easily earned my Arrow of Light award, and completed all badge requirements before coming of age to join Boy Scouts.
Our Boy Scout troop leader resigned from the position when his son completed his Eagle project, and Dad took over as interim troop leader. I continued working on earning merit badges, because each one contained requirements that helped you learn about an aspect of life that you may not have explored before.
From camping, cooking, swimming, hiking, citizenship, communications, lifesaving to emergency preparedness, I earned the merit badges, and used every one of these skills in my adult life.
I particularly enjoyed camping because cooking was a big part of making a campout as enjoyable as possible. I liked to plan meals that would be flavorful, but manageable in getting it to the campsite in a backpack and wheel-less cooler.
Often I would hike into the campsite with my backpack, and then trek back out to get the cooler and tote it in. But, it was worth it, as I was able to cook more substantial meals than just canned pork and beans and Spam that a lot of Scouts had.
I really enjoyed campfire cooking, and had a set of the Boy Scout camp cookware that included a small aluminum pot, skillet, bowl and drinking cup. Everything handily fit inside the pot for backpacking. I added another of mom’s pots that was just large enough to hold the camp cookware set. That gave me enough pots to make an entree in one, a side dish in the smaller pot, and by using the dish as a lid, I could do dessert in the skillet.
I used forked sticks of green wood and would put the entree in the biggest pot, a side dish in the middle pot, and dessert in the small one. The biggest pot would sit on the ground with coals all around it, and on the lid. The middle pot stacked on top, and coals were added to its lid. And, many of the scouts would stop by for “a bite” when they smelled the aromas.
My dad and I both left scouting after a particular camping trip to Mark Twain State Park, when a small group of our scouts hiked out to the nearby highway and were dropping firecrackers off the overpass onto the roadway underneath.
Dad and I were hiking out to where we could hear the loud explosions coming from, and arrived just in time to see park rangers and a highway patrol trooper gathering up the scouts, who were in full scout uniform.
It was a terrible embarrassment, and Dad just didn’t feel that he could lead those boys after that incident. He resigned as troop leader. I no longer attended any troop meetings, and don’t know whether the troop continued.
Hannibal Yankees & St Louis Cardinals
Like most boys, I looked up to the athletic stars of the day. I used to listen to Harry Caray announce the action in St. Louis Cardinal baseball games. Caray was outspoken on the air, never afraid to criticize the home team or its players, and he made his mark with play-by-play punctuated with his exhilarating calls of “It might be! It could be! It is! A home run! Ho-ly COW!” He was a master broadcaster with a crisp and exciting delivery, always with the listener in mind. He was a man of the people.
“Stan the Man,” Stan Musial, Ken Boyer and Red Schoendienst were some of my favorite players on the team, and Brooks “Bull” Lawrence was a favorite pitcher because Lawrence was also my name, and I liked the idea that you could be nicknamed Bull.
Everyone kept Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig trading cards. I was always on the lookout for baseball cards that i could trade for. At times, they seemed more like art than simply sports cards with vivid colors and beautiful images with names that now populate Cooperstown.
I kept buying baseball cards long after I got tired of the bubble gum that came with them. I was always giving the gum away to whomever I was with, and looking through the cards to see if I got any new ones.
I wonder how many times I passed over a Moe Berg card because he wasn’t a great player. I didn’t know until many years later that he was an American World War II hero. I don’t know what happened to that baseball card collection, as I went off into the world the day after high school.
I always thought about Harry Caray’s descriptions of players and actions when I was playing Little League baseball, and tried to style myself after my favorites. I was the pitcher for the Hannibal Yankees, and was pretty good, because I had the upper body strength to hurl the ball with some speed, and was accurate enough to hit the catcher’s glove most of the time.
I wasn’t a very good batter, however. A couple of years later we discovered that I was nearsighted. Although I could see up close, I wasn’t able to see detail in the distance, so it was hard to judge speed of the ball. It’s a wonder I was a good pitcher! In the above photo you can see my bravado; Larry Vaughn, age 9, 1953.
Camery Field Playground
When I was a youngster, about 11 or 12, the families who lived in the Elzea Addition area of Hannibal, Missouri, gathered together to turn an overgrown field west of Lindell Avenue at Clark Street into a neighborhood park named Camery Field, the first of its kind, and the concept for future neighborhood city parks. read more
My first fistfight was with Chester Ryker in the fifth grade. I had reported Chester for misbehaving on the playground one day, which caused him to get detention for three days after school. As a Field Ranger, I was just doing my duty, but Chester didn’t take it so impersonally.
He approached me on the playground one day, after he had finished detention, and was mad as a hornet! He wanted to fight right there and then. But, since I was on duty and wearing my Field Ranger belt, he thought better of it when I told him he would just get more detention or be expelled.
So, Chester backed off. But, he made it a point to jeer me and goad me whenever he could. Although his actions bothered me, they didn’t spur me to action. One day after school, however, I was walking home with a neighborhood girl who was in my class, and Chester suddenly appeared with some of his friends, and started jeering and goading me.
When the girl I was walking with became upset, I told her to just ignore them, and we kept walking without replying or acknowledging Chester and his friends. Well, the jeers turned to catcalls, and eventually led to inflammatory and vulgar remarks about the girl I was walking home.
This embarrassed her and insulted both of us. That offended my sense of honor, and I knew that I had to protect the girl’s reputation by avenging the insults. I sent her on ahead, and turned to wait for Chester to approach me, alone. To my surprise, he didn’t. He and his friends were crossing the street in the other direction.
So, I caught up with the girl, and though we hardly spoke a word, I walked her the rest of the way to her house. I felt the weight of my responsibility to defend her honor all that evening. And, when I got to school the next day, I discovered that all the kids had heard about what happened. This was humiliating!
During recess and lunch I sought Chester Ryker. I finally located him in the cafeteria area during lunch, where he was trying to get younger kids to give him their dessert. I told Chester that he owed the girl I was walking home an apology for the remarks he and his friends had made. He responded with a vulgarity, indicating that he had no intention of doing so.
I told him to meet me off school property when school got out, and we’d settle the matter right there and then. He agreed, adding an unnecessary vulgarity to his reply. I hadn’t been in a fist fight before, and I really didn’t know what to expect, but I don’t think I was able to concentrate at all on my afternoon studies.
When school was over, I gathered my homework and headed to the appointed spot with two or three friends who had agreed to meet me there. We arrived at the corner before Chester, so we waited for him to arrive. When finally we saw him coming, in a group of his friends, I nervously stepped into the street and waited.
The Devil in Decorum
I thought we would talk first, discuss our differences, and I planned to insist on apologies for the girl I was walking home the evening of the insults to her, and for myself, for the many unkind things he had said. Was I surprised when he walked up to me, and without hesitation, swung a punch that split my lower lip and knocked me off my feet! Before I knew what had happened I was on my back in the gravel, wrestling, with Chester on top of me!
Before I could regain my senses and get a grip on him to flip him over, Mrs. Shipps, our fifth grade teacher, was on the scene. She had heard about the plans for the fight from some of the other students, and had walked from the school to where we were scuffling.
She angrily grabbed Chester by the ear and pulled him to his feet, loudly scolding him as she stood him up. She told him that she was going to be watching him, and that if he didn’t change his ways he was going to be suspended from school. She then told him to get on his way in one of those tones that let you know she meant what she said.
By then I was standing, not knowing what to expect next. I had just discovered that I was bleeding from a fat lip, and was trying to wipe the blood away so no one would see that Chester had gotten the best of me. But, no such luck! Mrs. Shipps inspected the wound, dabbing at it with a tissue, and made quite a fuss over it.
She told me to go home and put some ice on it, and that it would be fine. She admonished me not to take matters such as this into my own hands, but rather, let her know about them so she could deal with them. She then sent me off to make my way home.
I was quite shocked at all that had happened, and embarrassed, too. I went over the sequence of events in my mind time and again. I was surprised that a fight could come to blows without a word spoken, and marveled at how I had been caught off guard by thinking that some civil dialogue would precede any actual blows.
I didn’t look forward to going to school the next day, because I knew the word about the fight would get out . . . and that I lost. As it turned out, it didn’t seem to matter that Chester had gotten the best of me. I was somewhat of a hero in many of the students’ eyes, because I had stood up to the bully in defending the honor of a fellow student.
The fact that I lost the battle didn’t seem to matter as much as the fact that I fought it. The lessons learned in this incident didn’t escape me, however, and became a large part of my thought process in dealing with future belligerents in all types of situations.
The girl involved in this incident and I were never more than casual friends, but the distant friendship lasted throughout our lifetimes. Mrs. Shipps became my mentor, and, I think, got me promoted to Captain of the Field Rangers. That meant that the next school year, it was my responsibility for assigning posts and training new Field Rangers in fulfilling their duties.
I didn’t have any more trouble with Chester. It seemed that the teachers had him pretty well under control. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to do much for improving his attitude or disposition, as many years later he was shot and fatally wounded by his estranged wife while in a Third Street bar in Hannibal.
I never did know the full story, and really didn’t care to find out any more about it, since by then I had my own family of two precious boys, and we lived far away in Danville, Illinois, where at the time, I was a sergeant on the city police department.
Church, Scouts and PTA
During those grade school days my family was active in church, scouts, Parent Teacher Association, and social events held at the National Guard armory, where my dad worked. In those days, before television was in every home, it was a common practice for children to go to the Saturday matinee movie at one of the Hannibal theaters when they could afford it.
The Rialto, Star, and Tom Sawyer theaters, downtown, showed lots of westerns on Saturday. Roy Rogers movies, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Cisco Kid, and others were the most common. It cost twenty-five cents to go to the movies back then, and that included popcorn and a small soft drink! Of course, twenty-five cents was a lot of money, and I wasn’t able to go as often as I would have liked.
Since we didn’t have television or digital devices to occupy our time, we spent a lot of time out of doors. We played lots of games, hiked, played in the creek, and when we couldn’t be outside we played a lot of board games. Monopoly, checkers, battleship, backgammon and similar games were our favorites. We also found some ways to entertain ourselves that weren’t so tame.
A boyhood friend and neighbor, Eddie Foxall, came over for a visit one time telling me about a new experience he had recently had, and that we should try it. He had a box of .22 caliber bullets in his pocket, which he showed me. I was intrigued! We walked down to where Lindell Avenue crossed over a little, usually dry, stream at Robinson Street. There was an arched concrete bridge called by locals “the humpty dump bridge”.
The bridge made a two-lane concrete “tunnel” over the creek bed under Lindell Avenue. On top it was a narrow, short, two-lane hump in the road, just short of the Robinson Street intersection. We called it the “humpty-dump” bridge because it could make your car “fly” for a few feet if you drove over it fast enough. A lot of folks did have that experience, and over time quite a few wrecked.
We went down to the creek, and under the bridge, which was arched at the top as though the concrete had been poured around a large tube. Eddie placed one of the large, flat rocks common to that area, in the center of the rocky creek bottom directly under the center of the concrete bridge. He took one of the small bullets from the box, placed it on its side on the flat rock, and picked up a large round rock. He dropped the large rock forcefully down on the bullet, which exploded loudly.
The bullet shot out from under the rock, hit the side of the concrete arch where it made a loud ZING! sound as it ricocheted off the wall, just to hit another surface and ZING! again as it bounced around inside the arch. This was pretty fun! Not something you get to do every day!
We set about repositioning the flat rock to see how many ZINGs we could get out of a bullet. We put the rock closer to the walls, then back, raised it higher by putting other rocks under it, and did everything we could think of to get more ZINGs. Finally, without much success, we had exploded all fifty of the bullets, and walked away unharmed, ignorantly looking for the next new adventure.
Ed and I were fast friends. He eventually became the Best Man at my wedding, and I was Best Man at his. We remained friends over the years, but he remained in Hannibal, while I spent most of my adult years living elsewhere.
We met occasionally during our family trips to Hannibal, to have lunch and catch up on events, and hoped one day to spend more time together. But, over the years my visits to Hannibal became less frequent, family situations changed, and life just got in the way.
When I reached the age of fourteen, I was legally allowed to work part time in certain types of retail businesses. My grandmother had a friend from the church she attended, who had a job she thought I might be interested in. His name was “Frenchie” Gallagher, and he managed the four Fresina movie theaters in Hannibal, the Rialto at Seventh and Broadway, the Tom Sawyer at Fifth and Broadway, the Star on Main Street, and the Sky High Drive-In on Route MM.
When I interviewed for the job that was open, Frenchie said the job would be mostly ushering, and picking up trash after a movie at the Tom Sawyer, but occasionally I would have to work the ticket taker position, and would be working fill-in at all the other theaters as needed. The Star, on Main Street, was my least favorite, as it seemed more austere to me, and lacked the vaudeville character of the others.
The Rialto, on Broadway, was okay, though remodelled into a movie house, but the Tom Sawyer, at Fifth and Broadway, was my favorite, and where I worked most of the time. There were still very prominent features of what had once been a great vaudeville theater. I liked stepping out into the box seats above the stage. They were too close to the screen to watch the movie, but it was fun envisioning the many live plats performed there.
I only had to work at the Sky-Hi Drive In once, and that was a double fill-in . . . for concessions during intermission, and the rest of time as backup for the projectionist, so he could have smoke and bathroom breaks. The projection booth there was pretty austere, basically for making only emergency repairs to broken films, as the projectionist at the Tom Sawyer made up the show reels and sent them complete to the Sky-Hi. The Sky-Hi Drive-In opened in 1952
View of the Tom Sawyer movie theater, from 5th St. Broadway entrance is at the left. Notice the Orpheum lobby doors are bricked up. The new entrance was off broadway. Note, too, the “L” wing of the mezzanine and balcony seating in the upper right corner
Located at 425 Broadway, the Tom Sawyer, originally named the Orpheum, had been built back in Vaudeville times. It boasted 1,660 red plush, comfortable folding seats on the sloped main floor A second story mezzanine with balcony seating and “box seats” were located in the “L” shaped part of the building behind the foyer, and directly in front of the stage on the second floor.
The theater had been famous on the Vaudeville circuit before the days of motion pictures, and had been very ornate. It was still very beautiful when I worked there as a youngster. It had been remodeled and renamed in the mid 1950s, after standing empty for several years.
The exterior entrance to the foyer, on Broadway, after remodeling, was lined with upcoming movie billboard posters and double glass doors on either side of the ticket booth. An attractive 1950s lighted marquee heralded the current venue, and 30″ red letters hovered above on top of the marquee spelled out “Tom Sawyer.”
The interior of the building was a spectacle to behold. The entrance, or foyer, in a white brick building, greeted the audience with ornamental features executed in white and gold, a black and white tiled floor with a concession area and ticket taker stand. Heavy curtains draped the walls with ornate tassel tie-backs.
At the rear of the foyer stood a striking red carpeted staircase that took up 3/4 of the foyer’s width. I supposed a dozen people could go up those stairs shoulder to shoulder. The foyer of the upstairs mezzanine housed the ladies’ and gentlemens’ restrooms, smoking rooms, offices for the management staff of the theater, and the entrance to balcony seating. A pair of plush oversized easy chairs and a side table were situated in two corners of the mezzanine foyer.
The movie house projection room was located at the rear of the mezzanine balcony in a booth above and behind the seats. The Tom Sawyer featured a pair of Western Electric carbon-arc movie projectors. The projectionist had to keep the projectors lit to provide the brilliant light needed to project the images to the distant screen. Carbon arc rods were very hot, and blindingly bright. They would burn very brightly for only twenty minutes, so movies were spooled in twenty minute reels.
Several reels of film and arc rods had to be used for a single movie feature, requiring two projectors to run the film continuously from end to end. This was costly in terms of the rods and the man-hours required to successfully project a feature film.
The loaded movie reel would be loaded on the top spindle. When the projector was started, the film then ran behind the lens, and spooled onto the empty take-up reel at the bottom. The projectionist could view the rod through the small very-dark-glass window on the side of the projector. Notice the flue at the top, to carry the fumes of the carbon arc outside through the chimney.
A standard length Hollywood movie averages about 5 two-thousand-foot reels, which runs approximately 22 minutes per reel for sound film at 24 frames per second. That meant that while one projector was running, the next had to be loaded with the next reel of film, the carbon arc rod ready to light, and the reel started at just the right time to make the change from one projector to the other appear seamless.
But, the real fascinating part for me was behind the huge movie screen, which was situated across the expanse of a large stage that still had a 1920’s era lighting panel and a hemp rope counterweight system for raising and lowering props during stage plays.
A huge red velvet curtain hung across the stage just behind the projection screen. Large, dusty, stage lights still hovered on complex rigging far above the stage. The ropes were about 3/4″ thick, and were coiled and tied to rows of wooden ladder-like racks on either side of the stage. It was quite easy to visualize how plays had been staged with lights, props, and entire sets managed as needed from positions just out of sight of the audience,
The dressing rooms, which were located beneath the stage in a basement, provided the most modern amenities for the stars of the Vaudeville circuit. There was a staircase at either end of the stage that led to the dressing rooms. The walls in the dressing room lobby were still lined with aged blue velvet curtains with dusty ornate gold tassels.
Outdated and musty usher uniform jackets hung on a rack in one corner, costume parts hung, or were strewn about the dressing rooms. An occasional hair brush or ashtray could be seen lying about, but otherwise the dressing rooms had been long abandoned, and now resembled concrete cubicles.
But, the magic was still there! It was easy to visualize the hustle bustle as costume changes were being made, the stage manager rushing up and down the stairs to make sure everyone was ready on time, and that the next prop or lighting change was prepared.
Upstairs, at the front edge of the balcony was a wall that ran across the entire front, and was a couple of feet thick, front to back, and about waist high. A protective brass handrail now stood up as a barrier, to prevent falling, but it was easy to imagine that it had once held multiple spotlights and floodlights to illuminate the sets and actions of the famous vaudeville actors of the day.
The Star Theater, 215 South Main St, was built as an ornate late era vaudeville theater. It was owned by John B. Price, who also owned the illustrious Park Theater in Hannibal. With a stage once graced by the likes of Amelia Earhart and Roy Rogers, the Star was sold to Frisina Theaters in 1946,and destructively and dreadfully remodeled again in 1948 to the plans of architect Cletis R. Foley.
The theater only survived 11 more years. Several floods contributed to its deterioration. When I worked there in 1959-1960 it no longer had accessible basement dressing rooms, no backstage, no character. When compared to the theaters on Broadway, it had outlived its long, colorful history.
I only worked at the Rialto a couple of times, once taking tickets, and once as usher. It wasn’t as nice as the Tom Sawyer, just down the street, but it was nicer than the Star. The Tom Sawyer was the flagship for Frazina and had the first run movies. The Rialto had the “B” movies, and catered more to younger audiences. It was good marketing strategy, because the Mary Ann Sweet Shop next door, drew hordes of children every weekend, so it was a good fit.
My year working at the theaters was rewarding, in that it let me see a new side of life in the entertainment industry. I enjoyed learning how the projectionist spliced together the short reels, containing news or cartoons into one large reel of film that would be played before the feature film started, and how the timing was accomplished to change from one projector to another.
The next week’s feature and short reels were delivered on Monday, and the movie was changed on Thursday. When the previous week’s shorts reel was taken apart and returned to their own cans and the feature movie reels packaged up, the film would be placed outside by the ticket booth to be picked up and delivered to the next venue where they would be played. The shorts were in their own individual metal cans, while the feature films arrived together in a large metal box.
1714 Grace Street
My family moved from 1709 Vermont Street to a two story house at 1714 Grace Street in Hannibal my sophomore year of Hannibal high School. It was a much larger house. The army was doing away with the Warrant Officer grade for non-aviation positions and Dad was going to have to revert from Chief Warrant Officer to Staff Sergeant with the accompanying cut in pay. So, he decided to find another occupation. This house would allow dad to have a home office for part time real estate development while he built it into a full-time business.
The house was on the top of a limestone bluff, and the backyard sloped up to the alleyway and then fell away from the alley into a deep ravine that dropped a hundred feet to Grand Avenue at Bird Street.
There was a very small basement carved out of the limestone, but it was really too small to be used for much of anything more than storing a few canned foods, and the rainwater would seep in because of the slope. Dad wanted it bigger and drier. And, he wanted some off street parking.
He bought a sledge hammer, and told me to break rock for one half hour every school night, and throw the broken rock out through the basement window into the backyard. He would then load up the wheelbarrow each night and move the rock where he wanted it.
On weekends, he broke rock, and I transported wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load into the designated area, then raked it out to keep it level. Over the school year, we built an elevated parking area large enough to hold both cars side by side, and three concrete steps were located in the center to get up and down from the lawn.
S.S. Kresge Company
When I was a junior at Hannibal High School I got a job as a window dresser and stock boy at the S.S. Kresge store at the corner of Main and Broadway Streets. I got out of school an hour early, so I could work a few hours before dinner, and then all day on Saturday. It was my first exposure to retailing, and was a real interesting opportunity to learn some new skills.
The window trimmer job was the entry level position for creating in-store displays. It required a lot of creativity and a flair for fashion that I hadn’t yet developed. The stock boy position was more interesting to me, since it was more manual and hands-on. Kresge’s was a well organized department store with all types of departments from clothing, to sporting goods, housewares, furniture and home decorating items.
The women’s and girl’s departments were parallel to Broadway, on the south side of the store, and included all the clothing and accessory items for them. Adjacent to the women’s department was the bulk candy counter with its gleaming clear-glass compartments and containers of sugar treats you could have boxed and gift wrapped, or carry out in a white paper sack.
The children’s and general items were the next few rows, and all the shelves were neatly laid out with glass dividers stood on edge, and held in place by metal brackets, keeping everything neat and tidy. It was here that I learned to cut and polish the edges of glass to make the custom sized compartments for displays. I used this skill many years later to craft stained glass panels of all types for the Walton House, and later for commercial customers.
On the opposite side of the store, on the north wall, beyond the men’s department, home and garden and hardware, was the lunch counter, which was busy from the time the store opened until after dinner.
Every day as lunch and dinner hours approached, the cooks would roast a couple small batches of Spanish peanuts an hour before. The fragrance was tantalizing, and stimulated a lot of appetites! It seems that the lunch counter was always nearly full, and often there were people browsing the departments waiting for seats to open up.
I also remember the pies on display in the pie safes! There were cream pies with wonderfully high golden peaked meringue on top, fruit pies with tantalizing latticed crusts, and pecan pies with glistening sugar sprinkled on top.
My favorite, though, was their apple pie. They served it warm, with a slice of melted cheddar cheese on top, and drizzled with cinnamon-sugar sauce. That was just about as good as it got! It is still one of my all time favorites!
A part of my stock boy job was to unload freight from incoming trucks, and take it to the basement or second floor stock rooms via the freight elevator, and stack it in the correct area.
The newly arriving items were always placed behind the merchandise already in stock, so the older items would be used first. Furniture, sports equipment, and durable goods were stocked in the basement. The lunch counter had their own separate stock area. Candy was stored in a special section upstairs.
The Layaway Story
One day I was given a sales ticket to pack up a bunch of items for a customer that had been put on layaway. So, I got on the freight elevator and went upstairs to locate the items, which were quite a few, and would require a large cardboard box to hold them all.
So, I quickly scanned the stock area, and saw an empty box that hadn’t been broken down yet, and would be just the right size, about two and a half feet wide and two feet tall. And, as a bonus, the top was still intact, so I could easily close it. I put it on a two-wheel dolly and pushed it over to layaway.
I carefully stacked all the items, checking them off the list as I went. I put the better packaged items on the bottom, Christmas wrapping supplies in the middle, and the delicate items were placed on top cushioned by crumbled paper. I closed the top, interweaving the flaps to keep it closed, and wheeled it over to the freight elevator.
As I was pushing the load across the stockroom to the elevator, the window trimming supplies caught my eye. There was a large bright red bow that we had used in a Christmas display, and was going to be discarded. I thought it would be a nice touch to add a little seasonal cheer, so I taped it on the top.
As I rolled it onto the elevator, shut the safety gate and pushed “1” to go to the main floor, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had taken care with the packing so nothing would be damaged, and it would brighten up the customer’s day by adding a little cheerful touch to her package.
It was our practice to help take the layaways to the client’s car and help them load. This box was big enough that it was going to have to go in the trunk of the car. I left the package on the elevator and went to the layaway counter to locate the client.
We then walked over to the elevator and I grabbed the dolly, pulled the box out to the aisle, and turned toward the exit, when the young lady said, “NO! I’M NOT TAKING THAT!” I didn’t know what she was upset about, and was stunned, not knowing what to think or do!
I looked at the box, which seemed to be in perfect shape and safely on the dolly. I asked her what was wrong, and she pointed at the box and said, “LOOK AT THAT!” I looked again, and it seemed perfectly fine. I didn’t get what was wrong. One of the clerks in the women’s department came over and talked to her briefly and then approached me. She asked, “Do you know what that is?” She was pointing at the box. I said, “I guess not. It looks fine to me.”
She said, “It’s for feminine products. It looks like she bought a whole case of them, like she was really having a problem!” Then it began to dawn on me. “Ah! It’s one of those unmentionables.” Now I read the packaging information on the sides of the box. In big bold letters were the brand name KOTEX! Then I was just embarrassed!
We didn’t talk about those things in those days, and I was so naive I was oblivious. The assistant store manager quickly saved the day with a roll of wrapping paper and some cellophane tape. He quickly wrapped it around the sides, taped it in place, and we were off to load it in her car.
I have laughed many times at the image of me pushing the two wheel dolly loaded with a big box of Kotex napkins following her down the street to her car. The topper of the whole incident is the bright red bow on top! What a joke on me!
In 1961 the spring rains brought the nearly annual spring flooding to Hannibal. Floods were so frequent it was common to see marks with a year painted beside it on the fronts or sides of some buildings. The Kresge store was no exception. The corner of the building at Broadway and Main had a number of short stripes painted on it. This year was no exception.
The flood waters carried trash and debris downstream along the street out front. The water crept under the front doors, onto the floor, and down into the basement. The mud left on the front windows and doors showed where this year’s paint stripe needed to be placed to record the flood level.
After the flood waters receded, the basement was pumped out, all the stock removed, and clean up began. I spent one shift shoveling the stinky wet mud into metal 55 gallon drums that the older men would take out via the elevator on four wheel furniture dollies. I really disliked that job, but, it had to be done to get the store reopened for business.
I didn’t much care for the retail world. I didn’t like having to work when “everyone else” was on holiday. I decided that I wanted to be a professional or in a service type business. Maybe even the military. I have to say, though, that it’s gratifying to think that I was there to play some small part in the history of the S. S. Kresge Company, one of the 20th century’s largest retail organizations. S. S. Kresge Corporation was incorporated in 1899 and renamed to Kmart Corporation in 1977. The first store with the Kmart name opened in 1962. On November 17, 2004, Kmart Holdings Corporation acquired Sears Roebuck & Co. From 2005 through 2019, Kmart was a subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corporation and in 2020 was a subsidiary of Transform SR Brands LLC.
Next chapter: How I Met Granmom